Scientific studies have shown a link between diabetes and heart disease. Diabetes can contribute to heart disease by:
- Decreasing levels of HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol
- Increasing blood pressure
- Increasing triglyceride levels in your blood.
Luckily, however, by managing blood sugar levels and making simple lifestyle changes, you can sidestep the correlation between diabetes and heart disease.
How Does Diabetes Cause Coronary Heart Disease?
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can cause coronary heart disease, since diabetics typically have blood sugar levels that are higher than normal. Over time, this extra glucose can attach to proteins inside the blood vessels, altering their normal structure and function.
Blood vessels thicken and become less elastic, making blood circulation difficult. The end result is damage to many parts of the body, including:
Blood vessel damage from diabetes can lead to blockages that eventually cause heart attacks associated with coronary heart disease.
Microvascular Complications and Macrovascular Complications
The damage to blood vessels caused by elevated blood sugar falls into one of two major classifications: macrovascular complications or microvascular complications.
- Macrovascular complications: Damage to large vessels from diabetes results in macrovascular complications, including heart disease, peripheral artery disease and stroke.
- Microvascular complications: When diabetes damages small branches of arteries, microvascular complications such as damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerves can occur.
Diabetes and Heart Disease Facts
Here are some interesting facts on diabetes in heart disease, provided by the American Diabetes Association:
- A little over 20 percent of all people over the age of 60 have diabetes.
- Approximately 30 percent of all of the people who have diabetes go undiagnosed.
- Heart disease and stroke are responsible for about 65 percent of deaths in diabetics.
- If you have diabetes, your risk of developing heart disease is two to four times greater than the general population.
- Diabetics develop heart disease at an earlier average age than those who don’t have diabetes.
Preventing Coronary Heart Disease
To reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, be sure to follow your doctor’s diabetic treatment plan. While no cure for diabetes has been found, managing your blood sugar levels can prevent damage to your blood vessels and protect your heart. Here are some lifestyle tips to help you control your blood sugar:
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a healthy diabetic diet as prescribed by your doctor
- Exercise regularly
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels healthy (This can be achieved through diet, exercise and medication, if necessary.)
- Lose weight if you need to, and maintain a healthy weight
- Monitor blood sugar levels, and take medication as prescribed.
You might also consider asking your physician if you should start aspirin therapy, which has been proven to protect heart health and avoid coronary heart disease in some patients.
Diabetes and Heart Disease Treatment
If you do develop coronary heart disease, many treatments are available to repair damage and improve your quality of life. Diabetes and heart disease treatments vary according to the type of heart disease that you have, and may include:
- Lifestyle changes (diet and exercise)
- Medication (cholesterol medications, anticoagulants, blood pressure medications)
- Surgery (angioplasty or bypass surgery).
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Family Doctor. (2000). Diabetes and heart disease. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/diabetes/complications/647.html.
Genetic Health. (2001). How does diabetes affect my body? Retrieved April 15, 2010, from http://www.genetichealth.com/dbts_consequences_of_diabetes.shtml.
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National Institutes of Health. (2005). National diabetes statistics. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/statistics/index.htm.
University of Virginia. (2004). Diabetes and heart disease. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/uvahealth/adult_diabetes/heart.cfm.