Both diabetes and heart conditions are extremely common in the US- more than 30 million Americans have diabetes, another 84 million have prediabetes, while heart diseases are the leading cause of death in the country. It is well known that diabetes increases the risk of heart diseases. Furthermore, adults with diabetes are two times more likely to have heart diseases and strokes than those without diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CD).
What is the relationship between diabetes and heart disease? How are these two conditions treated and how can they be prevented? Read on to find the answer to these questions.
What is the relationship between diabetes and heart disease?
High blood sugar levels damage the body’s tissues, including the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart. Over time, the blood vessels become harder, with fatty buildups – a condition known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis decreases the blood flow to the heart and brain, increasing the risk of strokes and coronary heart diseases including angina and heart attacks. High blood pressure, too much LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, lower than normal low HDL are all associated with diabetes and are key players in the development of atherosclerosis. Diabetes not only increases the risk of high blood pressure and coronary artery diseases but is also associated with a higher risk of heart failure.
Additional risk factors such as excess weight (being overweight or obese), a sedentary life, smoking, poor diet, drinking too much alcohol, high blood pressure, and family history of heart diseases can further increase the risk of heart diseases. Age is another risk factor for diabetes type 2 and heart diseases.
There is another problem. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels are “silent killers”. They typically don’t cause symptoms during the early stages. Unless the doctors check the blood pressure and order blood tests these issues are not detected.
Diabetes-related complications affecting the cardiovascular system
High blood pressure
Roughly two out of three individuals with diabetes have high blood pressure. Having both diabetes and high blood pressure makes a person twice more likely to develop heart diseases compared with someone who has either one of these conditions. High blood pressure and diabetes also go hand in hand with high cholesterol levels and being overweight or obese, which further increase the risk of heart complications. Health experts recommend keeping the blood pressure no higher than 130/ 80 for all individuals with diabetes. If the blood pressure is normal, it should be checked at least four times a year by those who have diabetes, and twice a year by healthy adults.
2. Coronary heart disease (CAD)
The most common form of coronary artery disease is angina. The typical chest pain associated with angina develops because the buildup of plaques in the arteries (atherosclerosis) causes them to narrow, reducing the blood flow to the heart and the rest of the body. Some people have coronary heart disease in the form of a heart attack, which requires urgent treatment. Symptoms of CAD include chest pain and discomfort, shortness of breath, weakness, feeling lightheaded, sweating and nausea. Coronary heart diseases can lead to heart failure over time.
3. Heart failure
Diabetes, coronary artery diseases, and high blood pressure are three major risk factors for developing heart failure. This condition develops because the heart is weakened and doesn’t pump enough blood for the body’s needs. Symptoms of heart failure include weakness, fatigue, abnormal heartbeat, and swelling of the ankles and feet.
4. Irregular heart rhythm
Other possible heart complications from diabetes are arrhythmias or problems with irregular heart rhythm. They develop when damages to the heart disrupt the normal electric messages that maintain regular heartbeats. Some arrhythmias can lead to cardiac arrest and death.
The best way to prevent heart complications related to diabetes is to have diabetes well controlled. Monitor blood sugar levels regularly. The goal is to maintain healthy levels of hemoglobin A1C, which shows if diabetes has been under control over the past 3 months. If you have high blood pressure, it is also important to keep it in healthy ranges. Follow the recommended treatment and have regular consultations with the doctor, as the treatment may need adjustments from time to time. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. This means regular exercise, about 150 minutes weekly, using a combination of aerobic exercises and weight training. In terms of diet, eliminate processed foods and follow a healthy diet- for example, the Mediterranean diet is mostly known to be heart-friendly, but is also beneficial for managing diabetes. Low carb and low glycemic index diets are also good choices. . Diet and exercise will also help shed extra pounds. Managing stress with deep breathing, yoga, and meditation is very helpful, as stress has a negative impact on heart health and blood sugar levels. Sleep is also important, aim for 7-8 hours of good quality sleep every night.