Diabetes is a type of chronic disease of the endocrine system that occurs when your body becomes unable to regulate your blood glucose or sugar levels. This can happen as a result of your pancreas losing the ability to produce insulin, or when your body can’t use insulin correctly to lower blood sugar.
There are different types of diabetes, but the most common type is type 2 diabetes mellitus. Type 2 diabetes mellitus happens when chronic high blood sugar hinders your cells’ ability to respond to insulin properly. According to the CDC, approximately 90-95% of all cases of diabetes in the United States are caused by type 2 diabetes.
Over time, poorly managed diabetes can affect practically every organ in your body, including your heart, nervous system, kidneys, and blood vessels. Keep reading to learn more about the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
How does diabetes affect your heart?
When you have diabetes, glucose stays in your bloodstream for extended periods of time instead of moving inside the cells so it can be used as an energy source. This free glucose causes damage to different tissues in your body, including your heart and circulatory system.
Diabetes can stiffen the tissues in your heart muscles and blood vessels, which causes damage and can lead to heart failure and fluid retention in the long run.
Having diabetes also increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease prematurely. Coronary artery disease is a condition in which plaque and fatty deposits build up in the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your heart, which increases your chances of having a heart attack in the future.
Unfortunately, having diabetes and coronary heart disease at the same time also make it more difficult to recover after a heart attack. Patients with diabetes have a higher risk of recurrent heart attacks and sudden cardiac death. This is because diabetes makes it more difficult for the cardiac tissue to heal after a heart attack, which can lead to scarring.
Diabetes also causes nerve damage, which can affect the nerves that control the heart. As a result, patients may not feel the early symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain or discomfort.
Cardiovascular risks of diabetes
According to the Mayo Clinic, research has found that people with type 2 diabetes are approximately four times more likely to die from some type of cardiovascular disease. According to the CDC, people with diabetes are also more likely to exhibit other risk factors for heart disease, including:
High blood pressure
High levels of LDL or “bad’ cholesterol
None of these conditions show any symptoms before a complication occurs, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to get regular checkups with your cardiologist if you have diabetes. Your doctor can order different tests to check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides levels and advise you on how to keep these risk factors in check. You can also order certain heart health tests from home.
Testing for heart disease
If you have diabetes, your doctor could also recommend taking certain tests to determine whether you also have heart disease and to what degree. Some of these tests can include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): this test works by measuring your heart electrical currents.
Echocardiogram (cardiac sonogram): this test helps your doctor get a better look at your heart so they can measure the thickness of your cardiac muscles and how well your heart is pumping blood.
Exercise stress test (running on a treadmill): this test allows physicians to measure how your heart functions during exercise.
How to lower the chances of a heart attack if I have diabetes
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to manage diabetes and heart disease from an early stage.
Leading a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important parts of any diabetes treatment plan. Making healthier choices is also a great way to prevent and manage heart disease. The lifestyle recommendations for both conditions are generally aligned and share many similarities.
If you have diabetes and cardiovascular disease, you should avoid developing any further risk factors for complications, such as:
Leading a sedentary lifestyle and not being active enough
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
Being overweight or obese
Eating a diet that’s high in unhealthy fats, salt, and processed sugars
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a simple way to remember the steps you need to take to prevent high blood sugar from causing a heart attack is by managing your diabetes ABCs. This acronym means:
- A is for A1C test
B is for blood pressure
C is for cholesterol
S is for stop smoking
Make sure you’re eating a healthy and balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. Additionally, it’s important for patients with diabetes to be active and exercise regularly to prevent complications. Although diabetes is a chronic condition that can’t be cured, it can be managed very successfully through these steps along with medical treatments, such as oral blood sugar medications and insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes - cdc.gov
Mayo Clinic Q and A: How does diabetes affect the heart? - newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org
Diabetes and Your Heart - cdc.gov
Diabetes, Heart Disease, & Stroke - niddk.nih.gov