DEAR DR. ROACH: Last year, at 57, I was diagnosed with Type 1 LADA diabetes. Initially I was put on insulin to get my blood sugar within the normal range.
Then I was just on metformin until the “ honeymoon period” was over. My endocrinologist is great. I now am back on insulin (six units at night).
I walk anywhere between three and eight miles about three times a day. My blood pressure is excellent. I initially lost about 18 pounds after diagnosis, so my weight is good.
When looking at Google, it says my life expectancy has been cut by 20 years! Yikes, I just retired and if I go by their gauge, I’ll be passing around age 68.
Is this based on someone who has had diabetes for many years, since Type 1 is usually diagnosed much earlier? The doctor said even though my initial sugars were over 500 when diagnosed, I was very healthy and that’s why nothing was “ destroyed.” My vision was off for about a month but no permanent damage was done. Any reassurance would be appreciated. — M.W.
ANSWER: Most people are familiar with Type 1 diabetes, with a typical onset in childhood and at a normal weight. It is caused by an autoimmune destruction of the insulin-making cells in the pancreas.
People also know about Type 2 diabetes, usually adult-onset and usually diagnosed in someone who’s overweight; it’s caused by resistance to insulin. But there are other subtypes of diabetes, including latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA).
In the U.S. and Canada, it accounts for a small fraction of diabetes cases, but it is more common in Scandinavian countries. It has some characteristics of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but the autoimmune nature and the usual progression to insulin need makes most experts feel it is closer to Type 1 than to Type 2. A recent paper has outlined a potential new classification of diabetes types.
The change in life expectancy from diabetes relates to how long you have had diabetes and how well-controlled it has been. With outstanding diabetes control (normal or near normal blood sugar levels), the effect on overall mortality is modest, at best. In one model, the reduction in life expectancy is less than a year. However, it certainly is possible to have life expectancy drop by 20 years with very poorly controlled, longstanding diabetes. For people with diabetes, to a very large extent, their potential to live longer (and healthier) can be improved by better blood sugar control.
For new onset autoimmune diabetes (both Type 1 and LADA), early and aggressive blood sugar control with insulin may reduce the amount of autoimmune damage and improve long-term prognosis. Studies are in progress to evaluate this.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a female, 16 years old. My white blood cell count is 16.6. I am suffering from so much weakness and pain in my legs, arms and shoulder area. I also have a cough and cold. Is it dangerous? What should I do for it? — K.C.
ANSWER: I don’t have enough information to help much. A white blood cell count that high suggests an infection. At your age, those symptoms are most likely a viral infection, but acute mononucleosis and even pneumonia are possible, so you need to see your doctor.
Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual questions, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible.
Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.