Heart Disease Prevention: Managing Heart Health as a Diabetic

What heart health concerns are specific to people with diabetes?

People who have unmanaged diabetes have high blood sugar levels, which can affect heart function and damage blood vessels. For example, high blood sugar can cause the lining of the blood vessel walls to thicken, which can impair blood flow. People who have type 2 diabetes (the type that is acquired with age) are between two and four times more likely to develop heart disease as people who don’t have it. They are also more likely to have a stroke, and the age at which they develop cardiovascular disease is usually younger than people without diabetes.

People who have diabetes are as likely to have a heart attack as people who have already had one.

Because of these increased risks of heart disease, people with diabetes have to be vigilant about managing their diabetes and making the lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of heart disease and worsening diabetes.

How does diabetes affect the heart (and circulatory system)?

Over time, people who have uncontrolled diabetes may experience negative effects throughout their body. The damage high blood sugar can do to the blood vessels and nerves the control the heart can lead to heart disease.

Diabetes also raises your risk of developing high blood pressure, and high blood pressure puts a lot of strain on the heart.

Diabetes can contribute to developing plaque deposits in the blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis.

The combination of high blood pressure and damaged arteries puts additional strain on the heart, which can hasten heart disease and increase the risk of major heart and circulatory events, like heart attack and stroke.

Blood flow problems due to diabetes can lead to a condition called intermittent claudication, which causes pain during walking. It can also lead to peripheral neuropathy, which causes decreased sensation in the arms, legs, hands, and feet.

Poor circulation in the legs is common among people with uncontrolled diabetes. In some cases, foot or leg amputation becomes necessary.

Does diabetes medication have a negative effect on the heart?

There is some evidence that certain diabetes medications may have serious side effects, including heart failure and pulmonary edema. These medications, pioglitazone and rosiglitazone, can cause heart failure or make it worse, so it’s recommended that they be avoided in people whose hearts have an impaired pumping ability. There is also evidence that these drugs may increase risk of heart attack.

One class of drugs, sulfonylureas, can cause weight gain and increase the risk of a heart attack. This medication may also make it harder to recover from a heart attack.

Before you take any medications to treat diabetes, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking the medications and not taking them.

How does diabetes management go along with heart health management?

The keys to successfully managing both diabetes and heart health are similar – make healthy lifestyle choices and adhere to your medical treatment plan. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet, such as the DASH diet or a Mediterranean diet. Make an appointment with a dietitian if you need help finding creative ways to incorporate more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains into your diet.
  • Exercise regularly – at least 30 minutes per day, every day – and keep moving throughout the day. If you have a sedentary job, make it a point to get up and move around at least once per hour. (Make sure you talk with your doctor about which types of exercise are safe for you.)
  • Manage stress and take steps to reduce it. Try meditation, yoga, deep breathing, relaxation exercises, prayer or anything that helps you relax and center yourself.
  • If you smoke, quit smoking and stay away from second-hand smoke whenever possible.
  • Seek help if you need it. Don’t be embarrassed about seeing a therapist or joining a support group.
  • Take all prescribed medications as directed.
  • Control blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight.
  • Get enough sleep.

Specific conditions that diabetics may experience more frequently

In addition to being at higher risk for heart disease, people with diabetes also have an increased risk for other conditions and diseases, such as heart failure, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.

For a referral to a Beaumont cardiologist, call 800-633-7377.

Learn more about Beaumont’s diabetes classes.