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 group.
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,
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