The Numbers for Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

by Cindy Uken Health Writer

Type 2 diabetes is a treatable condition, but even when blood glucose levels are managed properly, there’s a heightened possibility of stroke or heart disease. “We say that patients with diabetes are more likely to have cardiovascular disease, but I think it’s important to understand how much more likely,” said Tas Saliaris, M.D., in an interview with HealthCentral. In this slideshow, we’ll explore some specific numbers associated with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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Controlling the risk of heart disease

The American Heart Association (AHA) considers diabetes to be one of the seven major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). You can modify or control seven major independent risk factors for coronary heart disease: Cigarette and tobacco smoke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, overweight or obesity, diabetes, and healthy diet.

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Lifestyle changes

If you have type 2 diabetes, you could be asked to make four changes, including eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco smoke, and losing weight if you’re overweight or obese.

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Get active. Just 40 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity done three to four times a week is enough to lower both cholesterol and high blood pressure. Brisk walking, swimming, bicycling, or dancing classes are examples.

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Weight loss

A weight loss of 10 percent can go a long way toward lowering your risk of high cholesterol — or reversing heart disease and diabetes.

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Age is significant

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you should be tested if you are overweight and older than 45. It also recommends testing for those over 45 who have one of more additional risk factors such as: high blood pressure; high cholesterol; a family history of diabetes; African-American, Asian-American, Latino/Hispanic-American, Native American, or Pacific Islander descent; or a history of gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or delivering a baby over 9 lbs.

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Know your numbers, part 1

The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to have a professional test it. The AHA recognizes a normal blood pressure range that is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

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Know your numbers, part 2

“Starting with blood pressure, patients with diabetes, in addition to making sure their blood sugar is controlled, should regularly follow up with their physicians to make sure their blood pressure is optimally controlled,” said Dr. Saliaris. “Their cholesterol levels should be checked, and they should be controlled as well, either with medication or diet and exercise.”

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Your ultimate risk

Knowing risk factors so you can make changes is important — diabetes contributes to more than 230,000 U.S. deaths per year. “At least two-thirds of patients age 65 and older who have a history of diabetes will die of some form of heart disease,” said Dr. Saliaris. “Patients with diabetes are about three to four times more likely to die from heart disease than patients who don’t have diabetes.”

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And it’s not just heart attacks that you should be aware of: An estimated 16 percent of people age 65 or older with diabetes will die of stroke. “Probably one in six dies of a stroke,” said Dr. Saliaris. “That’s an important thing to remember. When we talk about cardiovascular disease, we’re not just talking about heart attacks. We’re also talking about strokes.”

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Heart disease

Finally, risk modifications are key because the ultimate numbers don’t lie. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without heart disease. “It affects the way your small blood vessels relax, the way they deliver blood to the rest of your body,” said Dr. Saliaris. “That’s why it can affect the areas where you have small blood vessels, like your eyes, your kidneys, your nerves, and your heart as well.”

Cindy Uken
Meet Our Writer
Cindy Uken

Cindy Uken is a veteran, award-winning health writer living in Palm Springs. She has worked at newspapers in California, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and at USA Today. Cindy received a 2013-2014 Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, chosen as one of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, inducted into the Yankton (S.D.) High School Fine Arts Hall of Fame, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her work on Montana’s suicide rate, and named one of Gannett’s Top Ten Supervisors of the Year. Follow Cindy on Twitter @CindyUken, on Facebook and at