SATURDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- Advances in diabetes care
have nearly eliminated the difference in life expectancy between
people with type 1 diabetes and the general population, according
to new research.
Life expectancy at birth for someone diagnosed with type 1
diabetes between 1965 and 1980 was estimated to be 68.8 years
compared to 72.4 years for the general population. But, for someone
diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 1950 and 1964 the estimated
life expectancy at birth was just 53.4 years.
"The outlook for someone with type 1 diabetes can be wonderful," said the study's senior author, Dr. Trevor Orchard, professor of epidemiology, medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
Orchard said that more recent improvements in diabetes care will
make the outlook even brighter for people diagnosed more
"We'll see further improvements in life expectancy compared to the general population," he said.
Results of the new study are scheduled to be presented on
Saturday at the American Diabetes Association's annual meeting in
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means the body's
immune system mistakenly sees healthy cells as foreign invaders,
such as a virus. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks
cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone necessary for
your body to use carbohydrates as fuel. Once these cells are
destroyed, the body can no longer produce insulin. People with type
1 diabetes must replace the lost insulin through injections or an
insulin pump or they would get very ill and could even die.
But, estimating the right amount of insulin you might need isn't
an easy task. Too little insulin, and the blood sugar levels go too
high. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage many parts of
the body, including the kidneys and the eyes. But if you get too
much insulin, blood sugar levels can drop dangerously low, possibly
low enough to cause coma or death.
Diabetes care today has advanced significantly since the people
in Orchard's study were first diagnosed. Blood glucose meters
weren't readily available back then. There were few choices in
insulin, and there were no insulin pumps. It was far more difficult
to maintain good blood sugar levels. And, Orchard noted that there
was no way to measure long-term blood sugar control, as there is
now. A test called the hemoglobin A1C can detect your average blood
sugar levels for the past two to three months.
Orchard's study, known as the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of
Diabetes Complications (EDC) study, included 390 people who were
diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between 1950 and 1964, and 543
people who were diagnosed between 1965 and 1980.
The researchers found that the mortality rate was 11.6 percent
for the 1965 to 1980 group and 35.6 percent for the 1950 to 1964
That means for people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes between
1965 and 1980, their life expectancy improved by 15 years. At the
same time, the life expectancy for the general U.S. population only
improved by one year.
The gap between life expectancy for people with type 1 diabetes
(diagnosed between 1965 and 1980) and the general U.S. population
is now just four years, according to the study.
Orchard said this new information should help people with type 1
diabetes who may be unfairly penalized with higher premiums when
they try to purchase life insurance.
Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the clinical diabetes program at
Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, called the new study
"good research that's documenting what we're seeing. Our patients
are doing much better. The morbidity is also much less. We used to
see so much blindness and now we don't see that as much. I think
this study is very reassuring."
Good blood sugar control is the key, said Zonszein.
Orchard agreed. "It's well worth getting good [blood sugar]
control, as well as controlling blood pressure and [cholesterol].
These are all important." He added that people with type 1 diabetes
who can avoid a kidney issue known as microalbuminuria actually
have the same life expectancy as the average person in the United
Learn more about type 1 diabetes from the
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.