Getting Type 2 Diabetes At 30 Reduces Life Expectancy By 14 years

Dr Chan Siew Pheng Endocrinologist Emeritus Professor Diabetes T2D

A study has shown that the earlier an individual gets diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, the greater the reduction in life expectancy. Every decade of earlier diagnosis was associated with 3 to 4 years of reduced life expectancy. 

The study, conducted by a team from University of Cambridge and University of Glasgow analyzed data from two large-scale data sources, the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration and UK Biobank. Data from more than 1.5 million participants were used in this study.  

Should We Be Concerned?

Yes, we should. The study which was conducted recently, highlights the increase in younger diabetics worldwide. In 2021 alone, it was estimated that approximately 537 million people suffered from diabetes worldwide. 

Data from the the United States indicated that individuals with type 2 diabetes (T2D) diagnosed at ages 30, 40 and 50 passed away on average approximately 14, 10 and 6 years earlier compared to individuals without diabetes. Data from the European Union showed a similar pattern, with the corresponding estimates being 13, 9 and 5 years earlier death on average.

Understanding Type 2 Diabetes.

Malaysia has the highest rate of diabetes in the Western Pacific region and one of the highest worldwide. Diabetes burdens our national healthcare system with costs about 600 million USD/more than RM2.8 billion annually. A 2019 national survey report revealed that 3.6 million adults had diabetes, with an estimated 3.7 million individuals undiagnosed.

T2D, also known as adult onset diabetes, accounts for 90% of diabetics, usually over the age of 40. It is a condition where the patient’s pancreas is able to produce insulin but the insulin is unable to push glucose into cells from the bloodstream as the cells do not respond to insulin correctly. This is known as insulin resistance. 

When glucose cannot enter cells, glucose level rises in the blood. Elevated glucose in the bloodstream then exerts its damaging effect by circulating all over the body. While glucose level rises, patients still feel hungry as their cells are unable to utilize glucose in the blood. This is also why diabetes gained the term ‘starvation in the midst of plenty’. 

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include: 

  • Genetic predisposition (parents/siblings), 
  • Unhealthy body mass index (BMI
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Increasing age

Doctor’s Insight

The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 (NHMS) showed that about 1 in 5 adults in Malaysia live with diabetes. According to Endocrinologist Emeritus Professor Dr. Chan Siew Pheng, this is likely due to poor lifestyle and diet choices among Malaysians. She shared that 50% of individuals with T2D do not exhibit symptoms. The diagnosis often occurs when complications start to surface, which is less than desirable. 

She also emphasised that most people with T2D also tend to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which leads to increased risk of complications such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and kidney impairment. 

Early onset T2D is generally more aggressive and difficult to treat than T2D diagnosed later in life. It raises risk of cardiovascular disease, early death and complications involving small blood vessels such as:

  • Retinopathy– blood vessels in the retina can get damaged, ultimately leading to blindness
  • Neuropathy– Nerve damage due to lack of blood supply
  • Nephropathy– Kidney damage, leading to waste build-up in the body

Additionally, Professor Chan mentioned that the new generation of medications reduces the risk of developing diabetic complications. She says, ‘’I have spent my entire career looking after people with endocrine disorders, so I’m excited about the new data from recent landmark trials that we can do something to reduce serious complications that people with diabetes can suffer from.’’

The traditional management, which aims for blood glucose control remains vital. The new generation of medications, however, can help improve quality of life and potentially increase life expectancy. 

Call for Action

T2D is largely preventable. Discipline and a balanced routine can reduce risk of disease. Some simple ways to keep T2D at bay include:

  • Maintaining healthy weight
  • Regular exercise
  • Consuming nutrient-rich diet
  • Practice proper sleeping habits
  • Monitor health regularly

If you are already diagnosed with T2D, there is no need for panic. The best course of action is to be compliant to your treatment regime. Treatment of T2D requires a holistic approach and it is important to refer to your healthcare provider for information or clarification instead of self-medicating.

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