Type 2 Diabetes Life Expectancy

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If you’re living with type 2 diabetes, you may wonder how the disease will affect your life expectancy. While type 2 diabetes can impact your life expectancy, effectively managing the condition can help you avoid serious health problems. Understanding the risk factors that affect survival can help you take action to reduce these risks.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that causes high blood sugar due to the body’s inability to use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body’s cells use glucose (sugar) for energy. Inefficient insulin use can cause various symptoms, such as excessive thirst, fatigue, and blurred vision.

Untreated or poorly managed diabetes can cause further complications like stroke (a blockage of blood flow or bleeding in the brain), heart disease, nerve damage, and kidney disease.

Blood glucose test at home. - stock photo

Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

Working with a healthcare provider to help manage your diabetes can lower your risk of developing complications.

In this article, you will learn about the complications of diabetes and other factors that can affect your life expectancy, as well as steps you can take to improve your quality of life with diabetes.

Diabetes and Life Expectancy

Type 2 diabetes has been shown to lower life expectancy. However, the impact on life expectancy varies based on several factors. High or uncontrolled blood sugar levels, involvement of the heart and kidneys, and age at diagnosis all play a role in life expectancy with type 2 diabetes.  

Management of the disease plays a large role in life expectancy. A Bulgarian study found that people whose diabetes was well managed could expect to live nearly as long as someone without the disease.

One study found that lower body mass index (BMI), lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol levels all added years to life expectancy.

Quick Facts

The life expectancy of people with type 2 diabetes is lower than that of the general population by as much as eight years. However, addressing risk factors can extend life expectancy:

  • Lowering BMI from 41.4 to 24.3 can add 3.9 years to life expectancy.
  • Lowering hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels from 9.9% to 6.8% added 3.9 years in one study. Hemoglobin A1C is an indicator of average blood sugar levels over three months.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels at 59 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are associated with a gain of 0.9 years in life expectancy.
  • Compared to a systolic blood pressure of 160.4 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), people with a 114.1 pressure lived 1.9 years longer.

Body mass index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. Despite being a flawed measurement, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

Complications of Diabetes and Other Factors That Affect Life Expectancy

Type 2 diabetes can put you at risk for other health problems. People with diabetes commonly develop other diseases that can contribute to a lower life expectancy. Adhering to a treatment plan to manage diabetes can help control risk factors, reduce diabetes-related complications, and increase survival.

Blood Sugar Levels

Monitoring and maintaining optimal blood sugar levels are an important way to manage type 2 diabetes and prevent further complications.

One study found that lower blood sugar levels were associated with higher life expectancies. People in the study who reduced their HbA1c levels from 9.9% to 7.7% added 3.4 years to their life expectancy, and decreasing HbA1c to 6.8% added another 0.5 years.

People with type 2 diabetes can monitor their blood sugar levels through an A1c blood test which indicates the average blood sugar level over three months.

Daily monitoring can be done with a blood glucose meter that requires a pinprick to add a drop of blood to a test strip. Another option is a continuous glucose monitor that continually checks levels using a sensor implanted under the skin.

Maintenance and control of blood sugar levels can be achieved through medication, diet, or other lifestyle modifications such as exercise.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure and diabetes often occur together. The San Antonio Heart Study found that 85% of people with type 2 diabetes developed high blood pressure by the time they were 50. People who had high blood pressure were also at increased risk of developing diabetes.

Controlling high blood pressure through lifestyle modifications like exercise or medications can have an impact on life expectancy.

Having high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart disease, and heart failure (the heart does not pump enough blood to meet the body's needs), which can all lower life expectancy.

Managing high blood pressure can help prevent or delay these health problems.

High Cholesterol

High cholesterol can affect heart health. There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and LDL. HDL is often called the “good” cholesterol and can help prevent health problems.

On the other hand, having too much LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, can clog arteries and blood vessels, leading to heart attack or stroke.

Since heart disease is a major complication of living with diabetes, watching cholesterol numbers and working to keep them in an optimal range through diet, exercise, and in some cases, medication can help improve overall health and life expectancy.

Smoking

Smoking can contribute to many diabetes complications. Smoking and diabetes both narrow blood vessels, which makes the heart work harder. Quitting smoking can have positive effects on overall health which may increase life expectancy.

People with diabetes who stop smoking can:

  • Lower the risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, nerve disease, diabetic eye disease, and amputation
  • Likely improve cholesterol numbers
  • Improve blood circulation
  • Find that physical activity becomes easier

Kidney Disease

Type 2 diabetes is one of the main causes of kidney disease. Kidney disease often develops slowly over time as blood vessels in the kidneys become damaged by elevated blood sugar levels. High blood pressure can also contribute to kidney disease.

Your chances of developing kidney disease increase if you’ve had diabetes for a long time or have consistently high blood sugar levels.

There are steps you can take to lower the risk of developing kidney damage while living with type 2 diabetes, including:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating according to your diabetes plan developed with your healthcare provider
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Kidney disease often does not have symptoms. Your healthcare provider will test for kidney disease regularly through blood and urine tests.

Infections

High blood sugar can cause changes to the immune response, making people with type 2 diabetes more susceptible to infection.  

People with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing severe infections. Sepsis, a condition that occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues, is more common in people with type 2 diabetes and is potentially life-threatening.

Better control over blood sugar levels can lower the risk of developing infections that require hospitalization or lead to death.

Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur with diabetes when the body breaks down fat too quickly, causing the blood to become acidic. It is more common in type 1 diabetes than in type 2 diabetes.

DKA can occur in type 2 diabetes with prolonged periods of uncontrolled blood sugar, a severe illness or infection, or missed doses of diabetes medications.

Signs of DKA include:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Fruity smelling breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Stomach pain
  • Dry or flushed skin

If you experience any of these signs, call a healthcare provider immediately or seek emergency medical help.

Improving Quality of Life With Diabetes

Living with a chronic illness such as type 2 diabetes requires work to manage the disease daily. Taking steps to control blood sugar levels and improve overall health can improve quality of life.

People who practice good self-management and control their blood sugar levels over the long term tend to have a better quality of life.

Steps you can take to improve your quality of life include:

  • Taking medications as prescribed
  • Changing your lifestyle to incorporate more physical activity
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes less processed foods and sugars and more whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Becoming informed on the disease through educational activities within a healthcare setting, community, or school
  • Seeking emotional support either from loved ones or through a mental health professional
  • Managing other diseases or complications such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol

Summary

Type 2 diabetes can put you at risk for developing health problems that can impact life expectancy. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney disease, infection, and ketoacidosis. Uncontrolled blood sugar and smoking can also impact life expectancy.

Quality of life with type 2 diabetes can be improved with adherence to treatment plans, lifestyle changes, education, and emotional support.

A Word From Verywell 

Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease. However, there are many ways you can improve your quality of life and life expectancy. Talking to a healthcare provider and adhering to a treatment plan that helps you control blood sugar levels over the long-term can seriously improve outcomes.

While making lifestyle changes can often feel overwhelming at first, taking small steps to improve your health can make a big difference in the long term. Becoming more active, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and eating a diet full of whole foods can all help you live well with the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does having diabetes shorten life expectancy?

    Diabetes can shorten life expectancy, however, the rate at which it does so depends on the management of the disease.

  • Does type 2 diabetes get worse with age?

    Diabetes is a progressive disease that can get worse with time. However, treatment plans can help manage the progression.

  • What is the final stage of diabetes?

    As people age with diabetes, they may experience more and more complications that can contribute to the end stages of life. The most common causes of death in people with type 2 diabetes are cardiovascular disease, cancer, and nephropathy.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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