Diabetes doesn’t occur in a vacuum—it affects many organs and body systems, including the heart.
“For people with diabetes, the risk of a heart attack or stroke is double that of individuals who don’t have diabetes,” said Christopher L. Daniels, MD, FACC, FSCAI, a board-certified interventional cardiologist at Cardiovascular Consultants of South Georgia.
“Having diabetes can increase your likelihood of dying from heart disease, which is why it’s so important to keep your blood sugar under control.”
Here’s why diabetes and heart disease are linked:
» Diabetes can change your heart in fundamental ways. High blood sugar—the defining characteristic of diabetes—can thicken the lining of blood vessels throughout the body, causing them to narrow. That can restrict blood flow, contributing to coronary artery disease or peripheral artery disease (a disease that affects the arteries outside the heart, mostly in the legs). Diabetes can also damage the nerves that regulate the heart.
» Diabetes often occurs alongside other risk factors for heart disease. “Diabetes increases your risk of having high blood pressure and cholesterol, and it is linked to obesity, all of which can affect your heart health,” Dr. Daniels said. “People with diabetes should also quit smoking and get sufficient physical activity to lower their risk of heart disease.”
» The more time passes, the greater the threat diabetes poses to your heart. Your risk for heart disease increases the longer you have diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes increases your chance of having a heart attack or stroke at a younger age.
SIMPLE STEPS TO LOWER YOUR RISK
If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar is crucial to lowering heart disease risk. You should also:
» Eat a healthy diet. Reduce the amount of processed food in your diet and include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein.
» Move more. Aim for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
» Shed excess weight. Losing weight can reduce your triglycerides and help you control blood sugar. A healthy body mass index (a measure of your height compared with your weight) is between 18.5 and 24.9.