Diabetes Awareness Month: Understanding the Link Between Heart Disease and Diabetes

Health Professional

We know that heart disease is currently a major health problem affecting many people. However, you may have been unaware that having diabetes can be an accelerating factor in the disease process.

The American Diabetes Association states that, "More than 65% of people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. With diabetes, heart attacks occur earlier in life and often result in death." If you have diabetes your risk of sudden death from a heart attack is actually the same as that of someone who has already had a heart attack.

Unfortunately the majority of people with diabetes aren't aware of these risks, with many being more familiar with the possibility of blindness or leg amputation, if they fail to control their diabetes.

However, the good news is that by managing your blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol, you can reduce your risk of such disease complications.

Why is there a strong link between diabetes and heart disease?

When blood sugars are consistently high, it can result in serious damage to the coronary arteries. Diabetes appears to damage the heart in a number of ways:

  • High glucose levels can cause the blood vessels to narrow or clog up completely
  • Diabetes can affect the heart muscle itself, therefore it is less efficient as a pump
  • Diabetes can affect the nerves to the heart; therefore symptoms of angina may not be felt in the usual way. This can also lead to delay and difficulties in diagnosing angina and heart attack
  • Those with type 2 diabetes often have higher triglyceride levels, and lower levels of HDL cholesterol
  • Diabetics are more likely to have high blood pressure

What can you do to reduce your risk factors?** 1)**** Blood sugar**

Keeping your blood sugar levels within the normal range can prevent or delay blood vessel damage. You can do this by following a healthy diet, eating regularly, exercising, and taking your medication at the appropriate times.

Your doctor can carry out a hemoglobin A1C test, which will indicate your blood glucose control in the previous 3 months. You should aim for an A1C of less than 7%, and try to have it checked at least twice each year. Also, if you monitor your bloods at home your readings should be between 90 - 130mg/dL prior to meals and less than 180mg/dL 1-2 hours after a meal.

2) Blood pressure

Having diabetes and high blood pressure, can increase the severity of cardiovascular complications, or possibly speed up their development. You should aim for a blood pressure reading below 130/80 mmHg, and try to have it checked at each visit to your health clinic.

3) Cholesterol and triglycerides levels

Having high cholesterol or triglyceride levels, as well as having diabetes can accelerate the damage to your heart. Again, following a healthy diet, which reduces the amount of saturated and trans fat will be beneficial.

Your cholesterol should be checked by your doctor at least once each year. Aim for:

  • LDL (bad) cholesterol: Less than 100 mg/dl
  • HDL (good) cholesterol:
    • Greater than 45 mg/dl (men)
    • Greater than 55 mg/dl (women)

Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dl

4) Lifestyle changes

Following a healthy lifestyle will go a long way towards reducing your risk of developing heart disease, slowing the progression of disease, and also helping to manage diabetes. Some of these factors include:

  1. Eating healthy, balanced meals

  2. Exercising regularly

  3. Losing weight, and trying to maintain weight loss

  4. Stopping smoking

  5. Taking prescribed medication, if required

Understanding that there is a link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease is a very important step towards preventing the life-threatening complications of disease. You should talk to your doctor if you'd like to find out more about lowering your risk factors.

Related Information:

Silent Heart Disease and Diabetes: "Why Don't I Feel It?"

Are You Ready to Change Your Behavior?

Diabetes and Heart Risk: New Facts, Familiar Message

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Melanie Thomassian is the author of Dietriffic.com, an online resource for credible dietary advice, exercise tips, and much more!