Diabetes and Heart Disease: Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots Between Diabetes and Heart Disease

Diabetes and heart disease may seem like two completely unrelated conditions. One affects the endocrine system, and the other the cardiovascular system. However, if you are living with diabetes, you are more likely to also develop other conditions, like heart disease.

When you have diabetes, taking steps to lower your blood sugar level and manage your diabetes is important. An elevated blood sugar level can damage your body, causing problems for your eyes, nerves, and heart.

How Diabetes and Heart Disease Are Connected

There are multiple links between diabetes and heart disease. For one, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease share many common risk factors, including an inactive lifestyle, excess weight, and an unhealthy diet.

Having diabetes is also a risk factor for heart disease in and of itself—the American Heart Association names diabetes as one of seven controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you have Type 2 diabetes, you are twice as likely as someone without diabetes to develop heart disease, including heart attack and heart failure.

Why is the risk of developing heart disease so high? It has to do with the way that elevated level of blood sugar affects the body and the heart.

An elevated blood sugar level damages blood vessel walls and the nerves that control the heart and blood vessels. Over time, this damage can impair blood flow and affect the heart’s ability to pump blood.

People who have diabetes often have other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure. Much like high blood sugar does, high blood pressure can also damage the artery walls, disrupting blood flow. Having both high blood pressure and diabetes greatly increases the risk of heart disease.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Heart Health

Heart disease in people with diabetes is called diabetic heart disease. However, the fact that your risk is higher doesn’t mean it’s inevitable that you’ll develop a heart condition.

You can take steps to reduce your risk. Start with these basics:

  • Get moving. When it comes to managing diabetes and keeping your heart healthy, physical activity can be your best friend. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you choose, as long as it gets your heart pumping faster. Aim for around 22 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as jogging, rowing, dancing, hiking, or swimming) each day, adding up to at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Control your blood sugar. Work with your healthcare team to manage diabetes and your blood sugar. Along with exercising and eating a healthy diet, you may also need to take medications to lower your blood sugar. Follow your doctor’s instructions closely about when and how to take your medication. Regularly checking your blood sugar levels will help you stay on track.
  • Seek support. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re trying to manage diabetes, but there are many resources to help you. Carson Tahoe Health’s diabetes program can help you learn the best practices for managing your condition and keeping your body healthy, including how and what to eat. You can also meet with others who have diabetes to learn what worked well for them.
  • Take good care of your body. Exercising regularly is a great first step, but it’s also important to support your health in other ways. Fuel your body with a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat, added sugar, and excess sodium. Instead, fill your plate with fruits and veggies, lean proteins such as chicken or fish, and whole grains. Aim to get between seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night, and find healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation or yoga.
  • Know the signs of a problem. When it comes to your heart, fast action matters. Take time to familiarize yourself with the signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. When you experience any symptoms that are unfamiliar or seem odd, seek medical attention. It’s always better to be checked out than to ignore red flags that could signal a medical emergency.

If you have diabetes and are experiencing symptoms of a heart problem, see a cardiologist. They can help you identify your personal risk for heart disease and take steps to lower your risk, which may include medication in some cases.

Having diabetes can increase your risk of other health conditions, including heart disease. Check out your heart health with a HeartSmart screening.