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Get on Track with Better Living

Find information, tips, and resources on managing your diabetes

Live a healthier, fuller life by learning more about the types of diabetes, potential complications, and ways to receive insurance coverage.

Diabetes and Heart Disease: How Diabetes Doubles Your Risk for Heart Disease

Diabetes and heart disease are commonly associated with one another. People with diabetes are more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, or a heart attack than those without the condition. In fact, a person with diabetes has a higher chance of having a heart attack than a non-diabetic that has already had a heart attack. Despite the likely possibility of developing heart disease and diabetes complications, various steps can be taken to lower your chances. A healthy lifestyle including a nutritious diet, frequent exercise, and careful monitoring of your blood glucose can reduce your risk for heart disease.

Diabetics face an uphill battle when it comes to controlling blood glucose levels. For some diabetics, balancing diet, exercise, and medication can be too much of a challenge. An unhealthy lifestyle may explain why two of out three diabetics will die from heart disease or stroke. [1] Poorly controlled diabetes can raise your blood sugar and damage your blood vessels. When this occurs, it becomes more difficult for blood to carry oxygen to the heart.

Diabetes is not the only risk factor; heart disease is also attributed to cholesterol, obesity, and smoking. Diabetics typically have cholesterol issues because high insulin levels can cause LDL levels to rise and HDL levels to drop. While the "bad" LDL cholesterol clogs your arteries, the "good" HDL cannot remove plaque buildup. Having damaged and clogged passageways increases your risk for heart disease.

In addition to battling cholesterol, diabetics may have difficulty achieving their optimum weight. Obesity is the primary risk factor that leads to heart disease in a diabetic. Obesity is classified as a large buildup of fats that may cause blood vessel blockage. This combination of high fat levels and impaired blood flow increase the likelihood of developing heart disease. Smoking is another risk factor that significantly increases your risk for heart disease or heart attack because it narrows your blood vessels. Since diabetes and heart disease also lead to damaged blood vessels, you should avoid smoking.

Heart disease is not inevitable; there are a few steps that help keep your heart healthy. Nutritious foods, like salmon, blueberries, and oatmeal, can promote heart health. Refrain from eating foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats like meats, whole dairy products, and processed foods.

An effective diabetes management plan also includes at least twenty minutes of physical activity per day. Exercise does not have to be strenuous for it to be beneficial. Walking around your neighborhood, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or picking up around the house are easy ways to improve your health. As an added benefit, exercise improves insulin sensitivity, reducing blood sugar.

Knowing the warning signs is another helpful tip. Pay attention to possible heart disease symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue or swelling in the ankles, feet, and legs. An early diagnosis may prevent a looming heart attack or stroke. Studies suggest taking a low dose of aspirin every day may also reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke; however, you may want to consult your physician before beginning an aspirin regiment.

Arguably, the best way to protect your heart is by closely monitoring your diabetes. Since blood vessels are damaged by high blood glucose levels, it's important to take medication as prescribed and test your blood sugar regularly. Even though your glucose levels may be stable, it's still necessary to keep your heart healthy by other means.

Although diabetes and heart disease are life-threatening diseases, they can be managed by making healthier decisions. Before modifying your daily routine, consult your physician. Sudden, drastic changes can do more harm than good to your diabetes. Your doctor can provide you with more information regarding heart disease and diabetes.

[1] http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/heart-disease/