The finding comes from a hard look at long-term data from the Framingham Heart Study, that wealth of data from more than 5,000 men and women studied every two years since 1951.
Oscar H. Franco, MD, PhD, of University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Unilever Corporate Research in Sharnbrook, England, and colleagues analyzed data on 50-year-olds with and without diabetes.
"We saw a very important and significant effect of diabetes in that people with diabetes live approximately eight years less," Franco tells WebMD. "This effect of diabetes is already apparent at age 50. Diabetes is provoking early heart disease in these people."
Men tend to suffer heart disease earlier than women do, and they tend to die sooner. So the effects of diabetes on survival and on time to heart disease differ between the sexes.
On average, 50-year-old men with diabetes:
- Have a life expectancy of 21.3 years -- 7.5 years less than other men.
- Develop heart disease in 14.2 years -- 7.8 years sooner than other men.
- Live with heart disease for 7.1 years -- slightly longer than other men due to younger age at onset.
On average, 50-year-old women with diabetes:
- Have a life expectancy of 26.5 years -- 8.2 years less than that of other women.
- Develop heart disease in 19.6 years -- 8.4 years sooner than other women.
- Live with heart disease for 6.8 years.
Franco says that people with diabetes suffer heart disease sooner if they have high blood pressure and if they have very little physical activity. This means that while it's important to prevent diabetes in the first place, it's nearly as important to adopt a healthy lifestyle after getting diabetes.
"Once diabetes has developed, heart disease can be prevented," Franco says. "It is fundamental to implement studies to prevent diabetes in the population. And once diabetes is there, it is important to do the lifestyle modification required to prevent cardiovascular disease."
Franco and colleagues report their findings in the June 11 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.