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Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

Diabetes and cardiovascular disease often go hand-in-hand. Persons with diabetes are at a much greater risk for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure. Other vascular problems include poor circulation to the legs and feet. Unfortunately, many of the cardiovascular problems can go undetected and can start early in life.

Persons with diabetes often experience changes in the blood vessels that can lead to cardiovascular disease. In persons with diabetes, the linings of the blood vessels may become thicker, making it more difficult for blood to flow through the vessels. When blood flow is impaired, heart problems or stroke can occur. Blood vessels can also suffer damage elsewhere in the body due to diabetes, leading to eye problems, kidney problems, and poor circulation to the legs and feet.

Risk factors include:

  • poorly controlled blood sugars, too high or out of the normal range
  • high blood pressure
  • obesity
  • abnormal cholesterol and high triglycerides
  • lack of physical activity
  • smoking

By controlling these risk factors, patients with diabetes may be able to avoid or delay the development of cardiovascular disease. People with insulin resistance or diabetes in combination with one or more risk factors are more likely to development cardiovascular disease.

Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease

The following are the most common symptoms of heart disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms of cardiovascular disease may include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • irregular heartbeat
  • swollen ankles

People with diabetes frequently have vague or silent symptoms of ischemia and may not have typical symptoms of chest discomfort. Consideration for a cardiac etiology should be entertained if unexplained shortness of breath or abdominal discomfort are present.

The symptoms of heart disease may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Diagnosis of Cardiovascular Disease

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the diagnosis of cardiovascular disease may include the following:

  • blood tests
  • blood pressure measurement
  • stress test
  • chest x-ray
  • EKG (Electrocardiogram)
  • urinalysis

Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease

Even when taking proper care of yourself, heart disease may still occur. Specific treatment for cardiovascular disease will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

When risk factors are eliminated (or reduced) in a person with diabetes, the risk for heart disease may be reduced. Taking care of yourself and controlling your blood sugar can often slow down or prevent the onset of complications. Other preventive treatment measures may include:

  • seeing a physician regularly
  • having annual electrocardiograms, or EKGs (a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms and detects heart muscle damage), cholesterol and blood pressure check-ups, and pulse measurement in legs and feet
  • paying attention to your symptoms and reporting them promptly to your physician
  • controlling your blood sugar levels
  • controlling blood pressure levels with lifestyle and diet changes, and/or medication
  • keeping low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (the "bad" cholesterol) at less than 100 mg/dL
  • controlling your weight
  • exercising regularly
  • eating a healthy and balanced diet
  • not smoking
  • limiting consumption of alcoholic beverages