Published on 13 July 2015

Health experts are recommending that people with type 2 diabetes in combination with different heart-related health problems make healthy lifestyle changes after a new study found these conditions could have an impact on life expectancy.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge looked at the causes of more than 130,000 deaths over the last 50 years and estimated the life-shortening effects of different health conditions alone and in combination, and found these big three conditions significantly shortened lifespan.

The researchers said that more and more people were currently living with one or more conditions that could increase their chances of dying early. The conditions of interest were heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

People with type 2 diabetes may be able to improve their life expectancy by making lifestyle changes, including more exercise and a healthier diet

The results of the Association of cardiometabolic multimorbidity with mortality study were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study authors said: “Mortality associated with a history of diabetes, stroke, or myocardial infarction [heart attack] was similar for each condition. Because any combination of these conditions was associated with multiplicative mortality risk, life expectancy was substantially lower in people with multimorbidity [two or more chronic health conditions].

"Our results emphasise the importance of measures to prevent cardiovascular disease in people who already have diabetes, and, conversely, to avert diabetes in people who already have cardiovascular disease."

The researchers looked at the impact on lifespan of having more than one of these three conditions over a number of years to make accurate estimates on the impact different lifestyles could have on the conditions.

In men aged 60, a history of any two of the three conditions was associated with a 12-year lower life expectancy. A history of all three of these conditions was associated with 15 years of reduced life expectancy. The estimates were similar for women: 13 years lost for two conditions and 16 years for three.

Life lost was greatest if the history of the conditions was present earlier in life. Estimates in this study started at 40 and ran through until 95.

The highest estimate of life loss was 23 years. This related to men aged 40 with a history of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart attack. The loss was only slightly lower in women with the same age and conditions, at 20 years.

The researchers found risk of death doubled with one condition, was four times as high with two conditions, and eight times higher with all three.

An NHS Behind the Headlines report on the study said: “The researchers used a large group and long timespan to make their estimates, giving us confidence in their main conclusions. But they are based on averages.

“Each person's risks and lifespan is individual, and it is never too late to improve your health, even if you do have one or more chronic conditions: you can work towards maintaining a healthy weight, exercising more, eating healthily, not smoking, and not drinking too much alcohol.”

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