Living Well: Diabetes and your heart — MRH wants you to stay informed on heart healthy matters to lower your risks for developing heart disease
Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes or you’ve lived with diabetes for decades, it’s critical to understand the impact the disease can have on your heart, and with people who have diabetes at an increased risk of suffering from heart disease, it’s important to learn how to keep your heart healthy.
“Medically speaking, there is no cure for diabetes, but it can go into remission,” said Dr. Gerald Myers, cardiologist at Memorial Regional Health. “Diabetes in remission simply means the body does not show any signs of diabetes, however, the disease is technically still there,” Myers said.
Types of diabetes include the following:
• Type 1: A chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a type of hormone that is essential to regulate sugar (glucose) levels in the blood. Previously called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, treatment focuses on managing blood sugar levels with insulin, diet, and lifestyle.
• Type 2: A chronic condition that affects how your body processes glucose, which is an important source of fuel for your body.
“The good news is that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable — about 9 cases in 10 could be avoided by taking several simple steps: keeping weight under control, exercising more, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking,” Myers said.
Previously called adult-onset diabetes, the body either resists the effects of insulin or does not produce enough insulin to help maintain normal glucose levels with this type of diabetes. Treatment to help manage the disease may also require diabetes medications or insulin therapy.
• Gestational: Affects women who are pregnant who have not previously had diabetes and have high glucose levels during pregnancy. According to the American Diabetes Association, the cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, but signs point to insulin resistance that makes it hard for the mother’s body to use insulin. This occurs when hormones from the placenta that help the baby develop also block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body. Gestational diabetes begins when the body is not able to make and use the insulin it needs for pregnancy.
There are common misconceptions of heart disease not being a concern for people with diabetes, including the notion that diabetes won’t threaten your heart as long as you take your medications.
“Treating diabetes can help reduce your risk for or delay the development of cardiovascular diseases,” Myers said.
Even when blood sugar levels are under control, you’re still at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
“That’s because the risk factors that contribute to diabetes onset also make you more likely to develop cardiovascular disease,” Myers explained. He said these overlapping risk factors include high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease includes these and other risk factors:
• Smoking: It’s important to stop smoking, because smoking and diabetes narrow blood vessels.
• High blood pressure: With high blood pressure, the heart works harder to pump blood, which can strain the heart, damage blood vessels, and increase your risk for eye and kidney problems.
• Abnormal cholesterol levels: Cholesterol is a type of fat produced by the liver and found in your blood. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. Often called the bad cholesterol, LDL can build up and clog your blood vessels. Triglycerides can also increase the risk.
• Obesity and belly fat: Excess belly fat around the waist, even if you are not overweight, can raise your chances of developing heart disease. You have belly fat if your waist measures more than 35 inches and you’re a woman or your waist measures more than 40 inches and you’re a man. To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle section, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after your breath out.
Diabetes, heart disease and stroke
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, the longer you have diabetes, the higher the chances you will develop heart disease. Over time, high blood glucose from diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart and blood vessels.
There is good news
To help lower your chances for heart disease, manage your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and stop smoking. The A1C test gives a picture of your average blood glucose control for the past two to three months, and the results give you a good idea of how well your diabetes treatment plan is working, according to the American Diabetes Association.