Approximately 29 million people in the U.S. have diabetes but 8 million of them are living undiagnosed and unaware of their condition. And according to the National Institute of Health, only 15% of those who are aware they have diabetes are compliant with the treatment regimens prescribed for them to control glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol. This is of grave concern to physicians treating these patients since diabetes is now regarded as the strongest risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
While most diabetics realize they have an increased risk of CVD, they may not be aware of the true impact of diabetes on cardiovascular health. The American Diabetes Association reports that 2/3 of people with diabetes have high blood pressure, 68% of diabetics over the age of 65 die from some form of CVD, and people with diabetes are 4 times as likely to die from heart disease as adults without diabetes.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which the blood glucose or sugar level in the body is too high. Normally, our body breaks down food into glucose that travels to cells throughout the body where a hormone called insulin converts it to energy. When your body does not make enough insulin, you will be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. When the cells in your body get enough insulin but do not use it properly, you will be diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. In both cases, diabetes takes a tremendous toll on the cardiovascular system.
How Does Diabetes Increase the Risk of CVD
When blood sugar levels remain high over time, the unconverted glucose in the bloodstream damages and stiffens your arteries and creates low-grade inflammation in them. In addition, the unconverted glucose causes fatty buildup inside the arteries which begins to block blood flow to the heart and brain resulting in a high risk of heart attacks or strokes.
The damage to the cardiovascular system is compounded further because 90% of diabetics suffer from one or more other conditions that contribute to CVD such as:
High blood pressure. When patients have diabetes and high blood pressure (a very common combination), their risk for CVD doubles.
High cholesterol. Diabetics often have unhealthy cholesterol levels which increase the fatty buildup in arteries, further reducing blood flow to the heart and brain.
Obesity. The more obese a diabetic is or becomes, the less able their bodies are to make and use insulin to convert glucose to energy, exacerbating their diabetic condition.
How to Protect Yourself From CVD if You Are Diabetic
If you have diabetes, you can lower your risk of CVD by making important lifestyle changes. Fortunately, these changes will typically have an impact on multiple riskrisk factors. For example, if you become more active in order to lose weight, your blood pressure and sugar levels are almost certain to go down as well.
Be active. Exercising just 30 minutes a day 5 days a week will help you lose weight which improves your body’s ability to make insulin and convert glucose. The American Diabetes Association also recommends getting up every half hour or so during prolonged sedentary periods. A few minutes of activity twice an hour will assist your body in controlling blood sugar levels.
Eat heart-healthy. Reduce your consumption of foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol such as red meats, eggs and fried foods. Focus on eating more vegetables and whole grains which help your body manage diabetes.
If overweight, work to lose pounds. Losing just a small amount of weight when you’re diabetic can help reduce both blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Keep your blood glucose at the right level. Avoid sweets and binge-eating, and be sure to eat small amounts consistently throughout the day.
Take all your medications as prescribed. Diabetes is a serious health condition so it is critical that you take the medications your doctor prescribes in the right way at the right time.
To learn more about how diabetes impacts your cardiovascular health, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.