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How Does Type 1 Diabetes Affect Life Expectancy?

Medically reviewed by Sarika Chaudhari, M.D., Ph.D.
Posted on September 29, 2023

  • People living with type 1 diabetes often have a shorter life expectancy than people without it.
  • The impact of type 1 diabetes on life expectancy tends to be more severe for people with early-onset diabetes and for women.
  • You can improve your life expectancy with type 1 diabetes by controlling your blood sugar and working with your doctor to avoid health complications.

Are you or a loved one living with type 1 diabetes? If so, you may be concerned about whether it will affect your life span.

Although the outlook for type 1 diabetes is much better than it was 100 years ago, there is still work to be done. Thankfully, scientists are learning more every day about the risks and causes related to a shortened life span from type 1 diabetes. They have also learned more about what people can do to live longer with type 1 diabetes.

Read on to learn more about life expectancy in type 1 diabetes and how to maximize longevity while living with this disease.

The Life Expectancy of People With Type 1 Diabetes

Before insulin was discovered as a treatment for type 1 diabetes, the outlook was not very good at all. Very few people with type 1 diabetes were still alive five years after developing this autoimmune disease. However, introducing insulin completely changed the outlook for people with diabetes. Nowadays, many people with type 1 diabetes live into their 50s and 60s and beyond. Still, people with type 1 diabetes tend to not live as long as the general population.

Research published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared the life expectancy of Scottish 20-year-olds with type 1 diabetes to 20-year-olds without it. This study found that the life expectancy of people with type 1 diabetes was well into their 60s. However, the life expectancy of the men in the study with type 1 diabetes was 11 years shorter than men in the general population. This same study also found that the life expectancy of women with type 1 diabetes was around 13 years shorter than that of women in the general population.

The results of this JAMA study indicated that 76 percent of men and 83 percent of women without type 1 diabetes lived to age 70. In contrast, only 47 percent of men and 55 percent of women who had type 1 diabetes lived to age 70.

Factors That Affect the Life Span of People With Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a complex disease, and life span depends on many factors. These include:

  • How well glucose (blood sugar) levels are controlled over long periods of time
  • Access to diabetes treatments and care
  • The development of any diabetes complications (e.g., heart disease, kidney disease)
  • Age at the time of diabetes diagnosis

Good Glucose Control

Maintaining good glucose levels over long periods of time is essential for living longer with type 1 diabetes. A1c (also called hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c) is a long-term measurement of average blood glucose levels. High A1c levels indicate that a person’s daily blood glucose levels are frequently too high.

In 2015, another study published in JAMA found that people with type 1 diabetes who maintained A1c of 7 percent over 6.5 years were more likely to live a little longer than those whose A1c was 9 percent over the same period.

Basic Access to Insulin Therapy

The discovery of insulin for type 1 diabetes treatment drastically improved life expectancy. People with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis need lifelong insulin therapy to control blood sugar levels.

It isn’t always easy to get insulin or take insulin, though. Not everyone can afford it. Some people live in places where insulin is hard to get. Others have trouble using insulin pumps or shots. If you have any of these problems, you can get help.

Check out this list of resources from the American Diabetes Association to find help paying for insulin. You can also follow up with your health care provider. Tell them about your insulin troubles, and ask if they have any resources to help you.

Glucose Monitoring and Insulin Delivery Systems

Insulin therapy for diabetes treatment was originally discovered in 1922. Since then, several other developments in diabetes care have helped to further improve life expectancy. These include:

  • Devices for glucose monitoring like continuous glucose monitoring
  • New types of insulin (e.g., long-acting or short-acting)
  • Devices for delivering insulin to the body

All three of these tools for managing diabetes may improve your life span by helping you maintain good blood sugar levels.

Continuous glucose monitors are always tracking your blood sugar levels. They help you know when your blood sugar levels are too high or too low, allowing you to give yourself medication at the right times. Having different types of insulin that work at different speeds also helps to control blood sugar levels by giving you more control over the amount of insulin in your body over a period of time.

Some people struggle with taking their insulin therapy through insulin shots. Insulin pumps and insulin inhalers are newer delivery systems that can give people an easier option to get insulin and control their blood sugar levels.

Diabetes Complications

Sometimes, type 1 diabetes can cause other medical problems. These are called diabetes complications. Heart disease and kidney disease are examples of type 1 diabetes complications. They are also common causes of early death in people with type 1 diabetes.

Working with your health care provider to prevent complications is one way to live longer. In fact, research has shown that avoiding kidney disease is a marker of long-term survival for people with type 1 diabetes.

Age at the Time of Diagnosis

Research suggests your age at the time you’re diagnosed with type 1 diabetes affects life expectancy.

A study published in 2018 found that, on average, being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes before the age of 10 cuts 16 years off of a person’s life. In comparison, being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after the age of 20 is expected to reduce life span by 10 years. The results also showed that being diagnosed before the age of 10 is worse for women than men. Men in the study diagnosed before age 10 lost an average of 14 life years, while women lost around 18 years.

Although these statistics may feel daunting, understanding them can help you and your health care providers better map out a diabetes control plan that could help extend the length and quality of your life.

What Can People With Type 1 Diabetes Do To Live Longer?

Although the life expectancy for people with type 1 diabetes is shorter than that of the general population, plenty of people live for a long time with type 1 diabetes. Here are some practical tips you can use:

  • Keep your blood sugar levels within the normal range, and avoid fluctuations.
  • Ensure you always have insulin and don’t run out.
  • Consider an advanced glucose control device.
  • Look into different insulin delivery systems.
  • Work with your health care provider to prevent and treat diabetes complications.

Follow Up With Your Health Care Provider

If you or a loved one are living with type 1 diabetes and have questions about life expectancy, follow up with your health care provider. They can help you better understand the life span of people with type 1 diabetes and create a diabetes care plan to reduce your risk of complications like heart disease and kidney disease.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myT1Dteam, the site for people with type 1 diabetes and their loved ones, people come together to gain a new understanding of type 1 diabetes and share their stories with others who understand life with type 1 diabetes.

Are you or a family member living with type 1 diabetes? Have you started a management plan? Share your experience in the comments below.

    Posted on September 29, 2023

    A myT1Dteam Subscriber

    What is the life expectancy of someone with diabetes for over 75yrs

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    Sarika Chaudhari, M.D., Ph.D. completed her medical school and residency training in clinical physiology at Government Medical College, Nagpur, India. Learn more about her here.
    Christina Nelson, M.D. earned a Doctor of Medicine from the Frank H. Netter, MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in 2023. Learn more about her here.

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