What a shock: Developing Type 2 diabetes at a younger age fast-tracks you to the heart disease lane

Managing diabetes is important as it can lead to many complications if left untreated. Leaving your blood sugar levels uncontrolled can take a toll on your cardiovascular health, increasing the risk for heart failure, heart attack, and other cardiovascular events. This is the finding of a study on middle-aged individuals with Type 2 diabetes, published in the journal Circulation.

The study also revealed that the age at which a person is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes can greatly influence their risk of developing heart disease and how long they can expect to live. In the study, the researchers found that people who were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes under the age of 40 were two to three times more likely to die from heart disease compared to those of the same age without the condition. In addition, the former was also four to five times more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease and heart failure.

Individuals diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes before reaching 40 are more likely to have heart disease

A team of researchers from the U.K., Sweden, and the U.S. calculated the risk for diabetes complications based on the age in which individuals developed diabetes. To do so, the research team looked at more than 300,000 people with Type 2 diabetes and over 1,500 individuals without the condition. The participants’ data were obtained from the Swedish National Diabetes. The team also matched the participants by age to compare similar people from each group.

From 1998 to 2013, the research team followed both groups to monitor their rates for heart attack, heart disease, stroke, and hospitalization due to atrial fibrillation and heart failure. They traced deaths caused by heart disease or other causes from 1998 to 2014.


During an average follow-up of about two-and-a-half years, the researchers found that participants diagnosed under age 40 with Type 2 diabetes had the highest risk for atrial fibrillation, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and death. In addition, women were at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease and death than men in most categories. The team also found that excess risk for cardiovascular disease and death declined with the age of diabetes diagnosis. (Related: Diabetes prevention study: Fiber helps reduce blood sugar, improve gut bacteria.)

Naveed Sattar, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Glasgow in the U.K., explained that individuals diagnosed with diabetes before age 40 were at a higher risk because weight and other risk factor levels for diabetes tend to be higher at a younger age. Additionally, blood sugar levels worsen faster in people with diabetes who developed the condition when they were young. Those sugar levels are more stable when an individual develops diabetes later in life, between the ages of 75 and 80.

When the team evaluated the participants’ average loss of life in terms of age of diagnosis, they found that those who developed diabetes under age 20 lose more than a decade of their life. When diagnosed with the condition at age 45, they could lose six years of their life, and two years when diagnosed at 65. They did not see an increase in the risk of cardiovascular events in diabetic people diagnosed at age 80 or older.

“If you’re 80 at the time of diagnosis, you just don’t have 30 or 40 years to see those develop,” Sattar explained.

These findings are important as more and more people in the U.S. are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and at a younger age. Even children are being diagnosed with the condition, which is worrisome given the many complications of diabetes, such as eye problems like glaucoma and cataracts; nerve damage or diabetic neuropathy; foot complications; ketoacidosis and ketones; kidney disease; high blood pressure; and stroke. These also highlight the importance of taking extra measures to prevent diabetes.

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