Diabetics Diagnosed Younger Have Longer Life Expectancy – Study

A new study by Finnish scientists into type 1 diabetes suggests that the earlier children are diagnosed the better their chances of living longer.  They found young people diagnosed between 15 and 29 had a poorer survival rate than children diagnosed between birth and 14 years.

However, the research indicates that one of the major causes of premature death in young diabetics is abuse of alcohol and drugs, rather than late diagnosis or less effective care.

The study followed the cases of 17,306 type 1 diabetic patients who were no older than 30 and averaged 21 years.  The cases, collected between 1970 and 1999, included follow-ups after diagnosis for up to 21 years and cause of deaths.

The team of researchers found the diabetic group who were diagnosed at an earlier age had better survival statistics and that these statistics have improved over the 30 years of the study.  However, the survival rate of the young people who were aged over 15 at diagnosis has declined over the period.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas, the cells, which produce the hormone insulin, used by the body to regulate blood sugar levels.  This form of the disease is not associated with obesity and typically occurs in children and young people rather than those in later life, as with type 2 diabetes.  At present, there is no prevention or cure for the disease.

Great advances have been made in recent years in diabetes treatment and care, and with good blood sugar control and general healthcare, a diabetic can live a normal life with a good life expectancy.  However, the mortality of diabetics is still significantly higher than that of healthy people in the population, with type 1 diabetics having a seven times greater mortality rate.  For some reason women with type 1 diabetes are 13 times more likely not to survive, compared to 5% for men.  Some ethnic groups have poorer survival rates than others.

Type 1 diabetics are normally insulin dependent; that is, they require injected insulin to control their blood sugar levels, and need to monitor their intake of carbohydrate.  Up to now there has been little study into the comparative survival and mortality rates of type 1 diabetics based on the age at diagnosis.

This new study, published on the British Medical Journal’s website, found that alcohol and drugs were the cause of 39% of deaths in type 1 diabetics who had been diagnosed later in life.  The team said this underlined the vital importance of good doctor-patient relationships; guidance and advice for young diabetics, especially as the abuse of drugs and drink have soared in recent years.  They also cited smoking as a bad activity for diabetics to indulge in.

The team did not look into the psychological causes for drink and drug abuse, for example whether diagnosis with a serious disease might lead the patient into drinking and drug-taking through depression or through a desire to lead a “normal” social life.

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