People with diabetes are more at risk for multiple health complications, most especially cardiovascular diseases. The majority of those suffering from high blood glucose levels have been found to develop heart illnesses eventually. While many people have heard of the connection between diabetes and heart diseases, only a few understand exactly what it means for them and how to manage them.
If you’re one of the people who are battling diabetes or you know a loved one with the disease, this guide will show you everything you need to know about its link with cardiovascular diseases. Take note of these tips to help you understand the risk factors, plan preventive measures, and practice management actions to reduce your risk as you navigate your way to a healthier heart.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that impacts how your body turns food into energy. To put it simply, much of the food you eat is broken down into glucose or sugar, which is released into your bloodstream. When your blood glucose levels become high, it alerts your pancreas to release insulin, which lets your blood sugar into your cells so your body could use them as an energy source.
If you have diabetes, your body either can’t use insulin properly or doesn’t make enough insulin. Over time, this condition can pose critical health problems, such as vision impairment, kidney disease, and ultimately, heart disease.
Types of Diabetes
Diabetes has three types: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes, which occurs among pregnant women.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes refers to the condition where your body does not produce enough insulin. It is believed to be triggered by an autoimmune reaction, or when the body attacks itself, which causes your body to cease producing insulin. It is commonly diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, and symptoms often develop quickly.
If you have this type of diabetes, you need to rely on insulin each day to survive. As of present, it is not yet clear as to how one could prevent and cure Type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
This condition prevents the body from using insulin effectively and makes your blood sugar levels unstable. It is usually diagnosed in adults as it develops over many years. Symptoms do not usually arise at an early stage of Type 1 diabetes, so it’s essential to monitor your blood sugar if you’re at risk.
The good news is that it can be prevented by making healthier lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy meals, managing weight, and staying active.
This type of diabetes develops in pregnant women who have never had a history of diabetes. It usually goes away after giving birth, but it may put the mother at risk for Type 2 diabetes over time.
Furthermore, the baby may have obesity as a child and teen and is also likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.
What are the Symptoms
Symptoms for Type 1 diabetes usually develop quickly, while Type 2 symptoms develop over time. Signs of diabetes could include:
- Frequent urination
- Unusual thirst
- Weight gain or loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Recurring infections
- Blurred vision
- Bruises, wounds, or cuts that are slow to heal
- Numbness in the hands or feet
- Having trouble getting an erection
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease refers to all problems that affect your heart. On the other hand, the term “cardiovascular disease” means the same but includes all types of heart disease and stroke. The most common type is coronary artery disease, which is caused by the buildup of plaque in the coronary artery wall— the blood vessels that bring oxygen and blood to the heart. The plaque is composed of cholesterol deposits, which decrease blood flow and make the inside of arteries narrow.
What’s the Link Between Diabetes and Heart Disease?
Having high blood glucose levels from diabetes may eventually damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. The longer you leave diabetes unmanaged, the higher the chances for you to develop heart disease.
In adults who have diabetes, heart disease and stroke are the most usual causes of fatality. Patients with diabetes are almost twice as likely to succumb to heart disease as people without diabetes.
What Increases Your Risk of Heart Disease?
If you have diabetes, these are other factors that may cause you to develop heart disease or suffer from stroke later on.
Obesity or Being Overweight
Being overweight has an impact on your body’s ability to manage diabetes. In addition, excessive belly fat around your waist can increase your chances of having heart disease.
Abnormal Cholesterol Levels
There are there two types of cholesterol in your body: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the “bad” cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or the “good” cholesterol. LDL can build up and clog your blood vessels, and high levels of it can put you at risk of heart disease.
Smoking can damage your blood vessels, particularly in your legs, eventually increasing your risk of lower leg infections and possibly amputation. Smoking also narrows blood vessels, which puts you at risk of long-term problems related to the heart and the lungs.
What are the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack?
Warning signs of a heart attack may vary depending on the person. You may have or not have all of these symptoms. If you notice a couple or some of these warning signs, call 911 immediately:
- Nausea or indigestion
- Light-headedness or sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or discomfort in one or both your back, neck, jaw, shoulders, or arms
- Recurring pain or pressure in your chest that lasts for a few minutes
Managing Your Diabetes with Insulin
To reduce your risk of heart disease, it’s vital to manage diabetes properly. The best action is still to discuss treatment options with your doctor, so you could decide which works for you.
For the treatment of Type 1 diabetes, insulin therapy is necessary. Your doctor will provide you with the right dosage, timing, and the number of injections you might need.
People with Type 2 diabetes may also need insulin therapy. The key is to monitor your blood sugar levels in the target range set by your healthcare provider.
Living with Diabetes
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, here are the ABCDESSS of living with diabetes:
A: A1C. Monitor and manage your blood sugar levels.
B: Blood pressure. Know your blood pressure and try to keep it in a healthy range.
C: Cholesterol. Make sure your LDL cholesterol levels are lower or do not exceed the target.
D: Drugs to decrease heart disease risk. This may include blood pressure pills, cholesterol-lowering pills, among many others.
E: Exercise and proper eating.
S: Self-management support. Set goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
S: Screening or monitoring for complications. Check-in with your doctor about the health of your heart, as well as your overall body.
S: Stop smoking.
Managing Your Heart Health with Lifestyle Changes
One of the biggest contributors to poor heart health is the lack of commitment to a healthier lifestyle. Your lifestyle is your best defense against illnesses, so making these changes would dramatically reduce your risk factors for heart disease.
Having a well-balanced and nutritious diet plays a significant role in keeping your heart functioning well. To maximize your cardiac diet, eat superfoods that are rich in antioxidants and nutrients, such as fish, berries, whole grains, nuts, and leafy green vegetables. Munch on healthier snacks, too, like dark chocolate and nuts.
On the other hand, limit your intake of fried food, as well as fruits packed in a heavy syrup, frozen fruits with sugar added, and generally any food with sugar content.
Avoid white, refined flour and other unhealthy snacks like cakes, doughnuts, sugary biscuits, and high-fat crackers.
Also, try to stay away from processed food like hot dogs and sausages, meatloaves, as well as organ meats, and fatty meats.
Being active makes your body sensitive to insulin, which in turn, helps manage your diabetes. Physical activities help control blood sugar, even the simple ones like brisk walking. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week to pump up your heart.
Some moderate physical activities that you can try are water aerobics or swimming, biking, playing tennis, gardening, and dancing.
Monitor Your Numbers
The American Heart Association recommends people with diabetes or those at risk be aware of key health numbers: total cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, and body mass index. These numbers will allow your healthcare provider to identify your risk for developing heart diseases.
For your blood sugar, try to stay in your target range recommended by your doctor. For your blood pressure, aim to keep it below 140/90 mm Hg or the target your doctor notes.
The target LDL cholesterol for adults with diabetes is <100 mg/dl or 2.6 mmol/l, while the target HDL cholesterol levels are >40 mg/dl or 1.02 mmol/l. It’s also important to keep your triglyceride levels at <150 mg/dl (1.7 mmol/l.
Managing your diabetes has a domino effect on your overall heart health. The earlier you manage your symptoms, the more you lower your risk of developing heart diseases over time. Protect your health by knowing your key numbers, altering your lifestyle, and making it a habit to check in with your doctor for your overall health maintenance.