The Diabetes-Heart Disease Connection
Did you know that if you have diabetes, you have about a two times greater risk for heart disease and stroke than people without diabetes? The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that if you are middle-aged and have type 2 diabetes, your risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or another cardiovascular health problem may be the same as that of someone who has already had a heart attack.
Once you know the risk to your heart health, you can start focusing on something positive: You can take steps right now to keep your heart pumping soundly and your blood flowing smoothly. To help bring down your risk for heart disease and keep your diabetes under control, get to know the ABCs of diabetes:
A is for A1C levels—a measure of your average blood-sugar levels over the past two to three months.
B is for Blood pressure levels—aim for 130/80 or less.
C is for Cholesterol levels—too much LDL (“bad”) cholesterol causes fatty deposits to build up in your arteries, leading to heart disease.
When you’re living with diabetes, closely monitoring your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels and aiming to keep them within a healthy range is like checking the levels of gasoline, oil, and transmission fluid in your car to prevent a breakdown. Not only can knowing your ABCs help lower your heart attack risk, it also can help prevent other possible complications of diabetes, such as amputation, kidney disease, or blindness.
The link to heart disease
Diabetes doesn’t necessarily cause heart disease, and heart disease doesn’t cause diabetes, although the two conditions are often found together. People with uncontrolled diabetes have elevated levels of blood sugar, and this leads to a complex inflammatory process that affects the lining of the veins and arteries and speeds up the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
With atherosclerosis, arteries and blood vessels become clogged with plaque. They also become narrow and prone to blockage, which eventually can lead to heart attack or stroke.
When the effects of high blood sugar are combined with the damaging effects of high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, atherosclerosis tends to develop even faster.
Therefore, be sure your health care provider regularly monitors you for cardiovascular disease.
How can you put the ABCs into action? These are the best steps you can take to control your diabetes and lower your risk for heart disease:
Control blood sugar
Keep blood sugar under control by closely monitoring your glucose levels, and keep them as close to normal as possible through diet, exercise, and medication. This includes monitoring your blood sugar each day and checking your hemoglobin A1C level at least twice a year, aiming to keep it around 7 percent.
Monitor your blood pressure
Have your blood pressure checked at every doctor visit or more often, and take steps to reduce it if it’s above 130/80. Buying a home blood-pressure monitor can give you even more control.
Check your cholesterol
Have your blood cholesterol levels checked at least once a year. The most complete cholesterol test is the lipid profile, which measures your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and triglycerides, which are another type of fat in the blood. Aim to keep your LDL cholesterol level at 100 or below.
Take your medications
Take any drugs prescribed for controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure, or blood cholesterol as instructed. Make them part of your daily life. Talk with your health care provider before changing or discontinuing their use—and ask about aspirin therapy to prevent heart disease.
Make a few changes
Adopt healthy lifestyle changes to keep the ABCs under control. With or without medication, it’s critical to your health that you:
Lose weight if you’re overweight.
Aim for 30 minutes a day of physical activity, five days a week.
Quit smoking, if you smoke.
Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Turn to your team
Ask your health care team for advice and support in lowering your risks. Have your eyes examined at least once a year to help prevent blindness; get a flu shot every year, since people with diabetes are more prone to infection; have a regular foot exam with a podiatrist and wear good-fitting, comfortable footwear to maintain your foot health. Ask if there is a dedicated diabetes specialist or diabetes center in your area, where you may get more information.