What’s the Link between Diabetes and Heart Disease?
Living with diabetes comes with a particular set of life challenges, including an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Science believes high blood pressure and high cholesterol, common in people with diabetes, are to blame. However, there are measures you can put in place to prevent or delay your risk of heart disease.1
Why are people with diabetes at risk of heart disease?
The very nature of diabetes and high blood sugar creates a risky environment inside your body, which can over time damage blood vessels, the circulatory system, and the nerves around your heart.2
Diabetes and insulin resistance are associated with oxidative stress, low-grade inflammation, and dysfunction of the blood vessels, all of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.3
- Younger people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing heart disease
- Heart disease affects 68% of people with diabetes aged 65+
- Stroke occurs in 16% of people with diabetes aged 65+
- Adults with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to die from heart disease4
Managing your diabetes, and reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol can protect your heart against cardiovascular disease.
What are the increased risk factors?
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of fatality in diabetes. Six preventable risk factors point to the reasons why:
- High blood pressure
Insulin resistance is often accompanied with high blood pressure, which is why it is so common in diabetes. When pressure builds up inside the artery walls, it places them under great stress and causes your heart to beat faster. The risk for heart disease doubles when hypertension accompanies diabetes.
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
People with diabetes have to work hard to manage their cholesterol levels. This means reducing high cholesterol, increasing low levels of good cholesterol, and managing triglycerides. These three blood fats can damage your blood vessels and if present, indicate early cardiovascular disease.
- Unhealthy bodyweight
Carrying around excess body weight can lead to high blood pressure and place your heart under great strain. Insulin resistance is a common risk factor in obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight can greatly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Weight loss is the best way to naturally improve insulin sensitivity and heart health.
- Sedentary lifestyle
Staying active is the answer to a healthy heart and strong blood vessels. Aerobic exercise gets the blood pumping and oxygenates the whole body, bringing fresh nutrients and removing waste and toxins. It also fortifies the blood vessels, improves circulation and insulin sensitivity.
To help you get started, read our guide on How to Start a Heart-Healthy Exercise Routine.
- Poor management of blood sugar levels
It’s important to avoid dips and spikes in your blood sugar levels, as this can damage your heart and blood vessels over time. When diabetes is well-monitored, risk factors of heart disease are greatly reduced.
Tobacco increases the risk of cardiovascular disease in anyone who smokes it. But in combination with diabetes, your chances of having a heart attack or stroke are even greater. Smoking causes the blood vessels to constrict, resulting in hypertension and excess workload on the heart. Ask your doctor for the best way to quit smoking.
How to lower your chances of heart disease
Protecting your heart against cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease starts with getting to know all you can about diabetes. It’s important you work with a healthcare professional to design an appropriate eating, exercise, and medication routine. They will tell you about the ABCDEs of diabetes management, listed below:
A = A1C – this is a blood test performed by your doctor every three months to check for your average blood glucose level over the past 120 days. An A1C of 7% or less is a good indicator of consistently healthy blood sugar levels. Managing your blood sugar can help prevent damage to your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, feet, and eyes.
B = Blood Pressure – most drug stores have blood pressure stations where you can easily check yours to see if it’s healthy: 130/80 mm Hg or less. Check with your doctor to discuss your targets.
C = Cholesterol – build up of unhealthy LDL cholesterol can clog your arteries and pose a risk of heart attack and stroke. A healthy target is 2.0 mmol/L. In some cases, your doctor will prescribe statins to help reduce LDL cholesterol.
D = Drugs – to manage your diabetes effectively, your doctor may prescribe medication to help. It’s important to observe your medication timetable and monitor your insulin levels at regular intervals. Talk to your doctor about regular screening to avoid other complications with your heart, feet, kidneys, and eyes.
E = Exercise & Eating – regular exercise helps to improve your circulation and insulin sensitivity, while conditioning your heart. In combination with a diabetes recommended eating plan and regular mealtimes to help regulate blood sugars, eating and exercise are your key to good health.
Managing your diabetes and paying particular attention to heart health is the best way to prevent or delay cardiovascular and coronary artery disease. Protect your heart and reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke: Follow the ABCDEs of diabetes management and live well with diabetes.5
- World Journal of Diabetes; doi: 10.4239/wjd.v6.i13.1246
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; February 2017
- International Journal of Hypertension, March 2018; DOI: 10.1155/2013/653789
- American Heart Association; August 2015
- Diabetes Canada
- Blog Contributor