Living Well: The diabetes connection to heart disease and stroke |

Living Well: The diabetes connection to heart disease and stroke

By Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health
Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are often associated with poor lifestyle habits such as not enough physical activity and diets high in carbohydrates and sugar. Talk to your doctor about making healthier choices to lower your risk.
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People living with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as people without diabetes — that’s because people with diabetes, especially those with type 2 diabetes, often have other conditions that contribute to a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

High blood glucose from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“The longer you have diabetes, the higher the chances that you will develop heart disease,” according to the institute.

Diabetes and heart health care at MRH


Assess your risks of diabetes and heart disease with your primary care physician and develop an individualized plan to improve your health and decrease your risks. 

Memorial Regional Health offers comprehensive examinations, assessments and labs, and offers care in the following relevant specialty fields: Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Cardiology, Nutrition Services including an on-staff registered dietician, and diabetes education. Call 970-826-2400 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Diabetes raises risk of heart disease, stroke

  • At least 68 percent of people ages 65 or older with diabetes die from some form of heart disease; and 16 percent die of stroke.
  • Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes.
  • The American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the seven major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Nicholas Mills, an internal medicine physician at Memorial Regional Health, said high blood glucose — or high levels of sugar in the bloodstream — affects every part of the body that has blood supply, including all organ systems.

That’s why it’s especially important to practice lifestyle habits that lower a person’s risk for both diabetes and heart disease. If you already have diabetes, there are steps you can take to reduce your heart disease risk.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where one’s body is no longer able to properly process sugar in the blood into energy, said Dr. Mills.

“This can be caused when the pancreas no longer produces insulin, or the body becomes unable to use insulin efficiently,” he said.

Insulin helps the body digest sugars that you eat and drink. Without enough insulin, sugar builds up in your blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and over time, that sugar buildup damages nerves, blood vessels, the heart and kidneys.

Dr. Mills said some signs and symptoms of diabetes include feeling thirsty all the time, using the restroom frequently, slow-healing skin wounds, numbness and/or burning in the hands or feet, and changes in vision. Treatment involves lifestyle modifications and medications that will help decrease the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. 

Why diabetes can lead to heart disease and stroke

Dr. Mills said a non-diabetic’s body uses blood glucose (sugar and carbohydrates) for energy, and insulin helps the glucose get into the cells to be used as energy. However, in diabetics, the process of moving glucose into the cells is disrupted by either not having enough insulin or not being able to process insulin at the cells, Dr. Mills said.

“Because cells always need energy, the liver can use fat and cholesterol as an alternate source of energy,” he said. “As a result, when blood glucose levels are elevated, cholesterol (lipids) tends to be high. High cholesterol is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.”


Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are often associated with poor lifestyle habits. Dr. Mills said diets that are high in carbohydrates and sugar, combined with sedentary activity levels, result in poorer health outcomes later on.

“Exercise more, sit less. Eat healthier. Drink more water and less sugary drinks, juice, soda and alcohol. Stop smoking,” Dr. Mills said. “Assess your risk of heart disease with your primary care physician and develop an individualized plan to improve your health and decrease your risks.”

The CDC recommends the following steps to lower your risk of diabetes:

·  Reach a healthy weight. Even a small amount of weight loss can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in those who are high risk. Ask your doctor what a healthy weight is for you.

·  Stay physically active. Adults should aim for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week (or about 30 minutes per day on most days) of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking or cycling. Children should get at least an hour of physical activity each day. Remember: Any physical activity is better than none.

·  Choose healthy foods. Choose fiber-rich foods, such as fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Avoid foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat.

·  Quit smoking. If you have diabetes and use tobacco, your risk of heart and blood vessel problems is even greater. Quitting smoking will lower your risk for heart attack, stroke, nerve damage and kidney disease.·  Take your medicine as directed. It is important that you take any medicine you have been prescribed for your diabetes, such as medicine to control your blood sugar, as directed.

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