However, some type 1 diabetes ''veterans'' seem to escape many or most of these diabetes complications, according to a new study.
''This study clearly demonstrates and documents that there can be a large number of people who can go a very, very long time with type 1 diabetes and not suffer with dire complications," says researcher George L. King, MD, chief scientific officer at Joslin Diabetes Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The study is published in Diabetes Care.
Explaining why is not simple, however. In the study, being free or nearly free of complications didn't correlate directly with control of blood sugar, King says.
He isn't discounting the importance of blood sugar control. It's shown to reduce the risk of complications. However, his study suggests other mechanisms may help explain the protection from complications he found in some.
King studied 351 so-called medalists who had received medals from Joslin Diabetes Center after living with type 1 diabetes for 50 years. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce adequate insulin to control blood sugar. In type 2 diabetes, the body may not produce enough insulin or insulin resistance occurs where the body does not respond normally to insulin.
Insulin moves glucose into the cells, where it's used for energy.
The participants' average age was nearly 68. They were about 11 at the time of diagnosis.
King's team looked at common complications, including eye problems known as retinopathy, nerve problems or neuropathies, kidney problems or nephropathies, and cardiovascular disease.
They found that:
43% did not have advanced diabetic eye complications.
87% were free of kidney disease.
39% did not have nerve disease.
52% did not have cardiovascular disease.
''Overall, about 20% do not have any eye, kidney, or nerve disease," King tells WebMD.
Role of Proteins
King's team evaluated blood sugar levels in the participants. On average, blood sugar levels were under good control. The average hemoglobin A1c test, a reflection of blood sugar levels over the past three months or so, was 7.3%. Experts often recommend those with diabetes keep A1c at 7% or below.
Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!
Your level is currently
If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.
People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.
Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.
However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.
Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.
One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.
Thank you for signing up for the WebMD Diabetes Newsletter!
You'll find tips and tricks as well as the latest news and research on Diabetes.
Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?
Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.