Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease – The Role of Genetics and Lifestyle
People living with diabetes (and there are more than 32 million here in the United States alone) have a higher risk of heart disease than individuals who don’t have diabetes. That’s just the undeniable truth and most people with diabetes are aware of this fact. But did you know that the American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the seven major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD)? It’s true.
Did you also know that the risk of heart disease for someone living with diabetes is two times that of a person without the disease? Or that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in The United States? According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in people with diabetes, leading to two-thirds of deaths in those with Type 2 diabetes.
There is no question that diabetes and cardiovascular disease are inextricably linked. So much so that it can be a little frightening. In the post, we’ll discuss the relationship between diabetes and the heart, and, hopefully, quell some of your concerns with some good news – there’s a lot you can do to minimize your personal risk of cardiovascular disease as a person living with diabetes.
Does Diabetes Cause Cardiovascular Disease?
The difficult-to-swallow answer is yes – it can. Over time, prolonged high blood sugar can damage the body’s blood vessels and the nerves that control the heart, and can cause the muscles of the heart to stiffen, which eventually leads to heart disease or heart failure.
Though we all know that diabetes is treatable, the American Heart Association points out that even when glucose levels are under control, the disease increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Why? Because many people with Type 2 diabetes face other diabetes-related health complications that can contribute to cardiovascular disease.
High Blood Pressure
This is a primary risk factor for heart disease and as many as two-thirds of individuals with Type 2 diabetes also suffer from hypertension. Put the two together and it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease even further.
This is one of the key factors in developing Type 2 diabetes and it is also a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Obesity not only increases insulin resistance, making it more difficult to control blood sugar, but it also puts added stress and strain on the heart. Again, when combined diabetes and excess weight heighten the risk of cardiovascular disease.
People with Type 2 diabetes are also prone to having high levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), low levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), and high triglycerides This can lead to fatty deposits in the arteries, as well as hardening of the arterial walls, which can also contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Lack of Physical Activity
This goes hand-in-hand with weight issues. Many individuals living with Type 2 diabetes do not get a proper amount of physical activity. This not only contributes to insulin resistance; it also can lead to the onset of high blood pressure and heart disease. For overall health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, as well as a moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week.
Types of Cardiovascular Disease
When a person and their blood vessels are healthy, blood flows freely throughout the body because the heart is able to pump it readily. However, atherosclerosis causes the blood vessels to stiffen and narrow due to a build-up of fatty deposits. This prevents blood from flowing freely and can leave the heart without enough oxygen to properly function, leading to coronary disease.
This does not mean the heart stops beating. It means the muscles of the heart have been damaged and become too weak to properly pump blood throughout the body.
This is a fancy word for an irregular heartbeat, which can cause structural changes or damage to the heart that disrupt the electrical messages that keep it beating regularly. In severe cases, arrhythmias can lead to a heart attack and the irregular beating inhibits blood flow to the heart.
Signs of Cardiovascular Disease
There are symptoms of CVD that you should be aware of when living with diabetes, particularly if you also have other contributing factors such as being overweight. These include:
- Shortness of Breath
- Extreme Fatigue
- Pain in the Chest, Throat, Back, Legs, Neck, Jaw, Upper Abdomen, Arms
- Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
Signs of a Heart Attack
If you feel any of the following symptoms, you need to call 911 immediately. If you are having a heart attack, the sooner you are treated the better your chances of surviving and preventing further damage to the heart, blood vessels, and even brain.
- Chest pain that may feel like pressure or tightness
- Fullness that might feel like indigestion or heartburn
- Discomfort in one or both arms, back, jaw, neck, or upper abdomen
- Shortness of breath
What can I do to prevent CVD?
Now things start looking up! While having diabetes does increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, things are not entirely out of your hands. Here is what you can do to stay on top of your health, live heart-smart, and lower your risk of CVD.
Control Your Blood Sugar
Damage to blood vessels and arteries due to diabetes stems from extended periods of high blood sugar. The best way to keep yours in the target range is to be aware of your readings each day and that takes regular testing. It also means sticking to your doctor-prescribed treatment plan and making adjustments anytime you find blood sugar difficult to control.
Drop Excess Weight
If you’re overweight, even losing 10 or 15 pounds can make a big difference in your risk of CVD. It will also make it easier to effectively manage your diabetes, which further lowers that risk – you’re looking at a big win-win!
Nobody expects you to go out and compete in the Ironman (though one day who knows?). The point is, if you’re sitting you’re not moving and that means you’re not giving your health the workout it needs to stay healthy. Get up and go for a walk – a 30-minute stroll can do wonders.
Eat a Diabetes Healthy Diet
Here’s a little secret. A diabetes-healthy diet is automatically a heart-healthy diet. So, if you’re sticking to your low-carb, low-fat items, you’re already doing a great thing to lower your risk of heart disease.
Hopefully, you don’t smoke, but if you do – please quit. Sure, this is easier said than done, but smoking puts you at a much higher risk for heart disease, not to mention lung cancer. If you’re ready to quick there are over-the-counter products like Nicorette gum and NicoDerm patches that can help.
Part of living with diabetes is understanding that it comes with an increased risk of certain health complications. Along with CVD, there’s also kidney disease, neuropathy, vision issues, and other conditions that diabetes contributes to either directly or indirectly. That’s just the honest truth. However, diabetes is a self-managed disease, which means you maintain a great amount of control as to how well blood sugar is managed and how much risk you can personally mitigate for diabetes-related complications. We hope knowing this helps you make smarter and healthier decisions when it comes to managing your diabetes. Good luck!
We hope you found this post informative and insightful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to helping those with diabetes control blood sugar and avoid diabetes-related complications with a complete selection of testing and treatment supplies at prices up to 65% less than those found at most pharmacies and suppliers.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including glucose meters and test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.