Type 2 diabetes typically shows up later in life, although the incidence in children is increasing. The disease, which is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar), or hyperglycemia, usually results from a combination of unhealthy lifestyle habits, obesity, and genes. Over time, untreated hyperglycemia can lead to serious, life-threatening complications. Type 2 diabetes also puts you at risk for certain health conditions that can reduce your life expectancy.
Type 2 diabetes can decrease your lifespan when it occurs with the following associated conditions:
- high blood pressure
- gum disease
- kidney disease
- high cholesterol
- nerve damage
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the seventh most common cause of death in the United States. However, there is no defining statistic to tell you how long you’ll live with type 2 diabetes. The better you have your diabetes under control, the lower your risk for developing associated conditions that may shorten your lifespan.
When you have hyperglycemia, you’re at risk of having high levels of ketone bodies. These acids can accumulate in your blood when your body doesn’t use insulin properly. Insulin is the key to turning glucose into fuel. When your body can’t turn glucose to energy, it burns fat instead. This causes increased ketone levels.
According to the American Diabetes Association, ketones are most likely to develop when blood glucose levels exceed 240 mg/dl. This can lead to a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis. Also referred to as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), this condition can lead to coma and even death.
DKA is considered rare in type 2 diabetes, but there is still a risk in extreme cases of hyperglycemia. The CDC estimates that DKA contributed to about 175,000 emergency room visits in 2011. In 2010, hyperglycemic problems like DKA also caused 2,361 deaths in adults over the age of 20.
The best way to prevent this life-threatening complication is to check for ketones whenever your blood sugar is high. When ketones build up, they appear in the urine. Urine strips are available at the drugstore for measuring ketone levels in diabetes.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is another associated complication of type 2 diabetes. This condition causes your heart to work harder by pumping blood more forcefully. Occasional changes in blood pressure are normal. But hypertension develops when these changes happen consistently over a long period of time. High blood pressure can lead to life-threatening conditions like:
- heart attack
- blood aneurysm
- heart failure
According to the CDC, between 2009 and 2012, 71 percent of adults with diabetes had blood pressure of 140/90 or higher or used medications to lower their blood pressure.
Diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage, occurs if type 2 diabetes is poorly managed. It’s also a symptom of long-term diabetes. Nerve damage can cause tingling and numbing sensations in the body. In severe neuropathy, you may no longer feel the affected areas of the body at all.
The legs and feet are among the most common areas of nerve damage in type 2 diabetes. This damage can lead to conditions that require amputation. In fact, the CDC says that 60 percent of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations are attributed to diabetes.
Nerve damage can also lead to life-threatening infections. This is due to the fact you may not feel an injury of a body part before it’s too late. Nerve damage in type 2 diabetes can also cause serious problems with your:
- urinary tract
- digestive tract
You can help prevent nerve-related complications with regular visits to the doctor. A doctor is likely to pay special attention to your legs and feet.
Gum disease is more prevalent in adults with type 2 diabetes than in other adults. This complication of diabetes:
- decreases circulation
- increases plaque from high blood sugar levels
- decreases saliva production, causing dry mouth
- decreases protective collagen in the gums
Severe cases of gum disease can lead to heart problems, which in turn affect life expectancy. Your best defense against gum disease is through proper oral care, as well as regular dental exams.
Hyperglycemia damages kidney vessels, which puts people with type 2 diabetes at increased risk for kidney disease. Also called diabetic nephropathy, this form of kidney disease prevents organs from disposing waste.. This is a serious complication that can be fatal when left untreated.
Some people with this condition require kidney transplants to fix the problem. According to the CDC, 44 percent of all kidney failures in 2011 were caused by diabetes. Kidney failure can be fatal. If you have diabetes, you should be tested for kidney disease at least once a year.
While the exact connection is not clear, type 2 diabetes increases your risk for high cholesterol. The risk is even greater if you have a family history of cholesterol issues, or if you’re obese. Adults with type 2 diabetes are most prone to developing high triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Over time this can clog the arteries and lead to a heart attack.
It’s important to keep your cholesterol in check through good diet and regular exercise. Even if you’re not considered at a high risk for cholesterol problems, the National Diabetes Education Program recommends testing once every two years.
Type 2 diabetes requires constant management. First, it’s important to check your blood sugar to make sure it’s not too high. Taking the right doses of medication is necessary in helping to keep glucose levels normal. Lifestyle habits, such as a healthy diet and exercise can also help regulate blood glucose. The better your diabetes is managed, the longer a life you’ll likely enjoy.