Managing Diabetes Important for Reducing Heart Disease Risk

Managing Diabetes Important for Reducing Heart Disease Risk

November 10, 2021

Heart disease is the nation’s leading cause of death and a major cause of disability. Among conditions that lead to heart disease, diabetes qualifies as a major risk factor. Therefore, managing diabetes is one of the most important things people with the condition can do to limit their risk of heart disease.

People with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people without diabetes. In fact, most people who have diabetes will develop some type of heart disease in their lifetime. Heart disease is a general term for conditions that slow or stop the flow of blood to and from the heart, such as:

  • Heart failure: a condition in which the heart cannot fill up with blood or cannot pump blood to the rest of the body with enough force. Sometimes both problems are present. This condition develops over time and can be caused by a number of factors, such as damage to heart muscle or blocked arteries.
  • Heart attack: permanent damage to the heart. Coronary arteries provide the heart with oxygen-rich blood to keep it nourished. Arteries also can become clogged with fat, calcium, proteins, and inflammation (also called plaque), which can rupture inside arteries and cause a blood clot. That can starve the heart of oxygen, causing permanent damage due to heart muscle cell death.
  • Stroke: occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood. Damage to brain tissue can cause you to lose the ability to speak or move parts of your body.

The Link to Diabetes, and How to Manage It

High blood glucose from diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control heart muscle and blood vessels. Over time, this damage can lead to heart disease. Adults with diabetes are more likely to have heart disease or stroke, and they also tend to develop heart disease at a younger age than people without diabetes.

If you have diabetes, you can protect your heart and health by managing your blood glucose, also called blood sugar. You also can protect yourself by controlling high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association recommend these lifestyle changes for people with diabetes, to help lower their risk for heart disease and better manage their condition:

  1. Healthy diet. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Eat fewer processed foods (such as chips, sweets, and fast food) and avoid trans fats. Drink more water, fewer sugary drinks, and less alcohol.
  2. Healthy weight. If you’re overweight, losing even a modest amount of weight can lower your triglycerides and blood sugar. Modest weight loss means 5% to 7% of body weight, or 10-14 pounds for a 200-pound person.
  3. Active lifestyle. Being physically active makes your body more sensitive to insulin (the hormone that allows cells in your body to use blood sugar for energy), which helps manage diabetes. Physical activity also helps control blood sugar levels. Try to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking.
  4. Manage stress. Stress can raise your blood pressure and also can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking too much alcohol or overeating. Instead, visit a mental health counselor, try meditation or deep breathing, get some physical activity, or get support from friends and family.
  5. Remember the ABCs:
  6. A: Get a regular A1C test to measure your average blood sugar over 2-3 months, and try to stay in your target range as much as possible.
  7. B: Try to keep your Blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg (or whatever target your doctor sets).
  8. C: Manage your Cholesterol levels.

Talk to the Experts

Ask your doctor about reachable goals for A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and how you can work toward these goals. To improve your diabetes self-management skills, you doctor may refer you to a diabetes educator or a registered dietitian.

If lifestyle changes do not help reduce the risks for heart disease, there are many other approaches. Advances in treatment, surgical techniques, and various medical technologies provide additional options for help.

The UAB Cardiovascular Institute (CVI) is among the largest programs of its kind in the southeast and features the most advanced technology available. Click here to learn how CVI specialists can help you reduce your risks for heart disease.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Heart Association

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