Life Expectancy for People with Type 1 Diabetes Improves Dramatically


While we have yet to achieve a cure for type 1 diabetes, treatment has improved vastly over the past few decades.  Tools such as blood glucose meters, HbA1c tests, faster and longer acting insulins, insulin pumps, and continuous glucose monitors weren’t widely available or didn’t exist at all before thirty years ago.  Today, they help people with diabetes control their blood sugars better than ever before.

A new study shows just how much these new tools, along with better medical knowledge, have benefitted people with type 1 diabetes.  According to the study, presented at the American Diabetes Association 71st Scientific Sessions, the life expectancy of people with type 1 diabetes diagnosed between 1965 and 1980 increased dramatically compared with those diagnosed between 1950 and 1964.

The researchers based their study on a cohort of more than 900 patients who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the University of Pittsburgh.  They found that life expectancy for the group diagnosed between 1950 and 1964 was just 53.4 years, compared with a life expectancy of 68.8 years for the group diagnosed between 1965 and 1980, an increase of 15 years.  During this same time period, the life expectancy for the overall U.S. population increased by less than one year.  The study also showed a greatly reduced gap between life expectancy for the overall U.S. population and life expectancy for people with type 1 diabetes.   The gap dropped from 18 years for the group diagnosed in the earlier time period to just four years for the later diagnosed group.  These results illustrate just how dramatic the improvement has been for people with type 1 diabetes.

Also noteworthy is the fact that most of the newer and better tools for maintaining good blood glucose control were developed in the years following the time period in which the study’s second group was diagnosed, meaning these tools were not always available to them.  As a result, the researchers who conducted the study expect life expectancy rates will continue to rise in people with type 1 diabetes, as use of these tools becomes more widespread and newer technologies are developed.  They also predict that their findings could have a practical impact, such as lower premiums for people with type 1 diabetes who wish to purchase life insurance.

While JDRF did not fund this particular research, improving the lives of people with type 1 diabetes is one of the organization’s goals.  Research in the area of glucose control, such as JDRF’s Artificial Pancreas Project and initiative to produce better and faster-acting insulins, is intended to help people with type 1 diabetes live longer and healthier lives until we can reach our ultimate objective and deliver a cure.