Diabetes and Heart Disease: The ABCs of Prevention
When you have diabetes, keeping track of your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help cut your risk of life-threatening heart disease.
If you have diabetes, you're likely well aware of its potential complications. Blindness, amputation and infections are a few. But, one study shows that two out of three people with diabetes don't know what their greatest risk is: heart disease.
In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in people with diabetes. What's more, people with diabetes:
Are two to four times more likely to have a heart attack than someone who doesn't have the disease. Develop heart disease at an earlier age. Have more serious heart attacks that are more often deadly. If you are middle-aged and have type 2 diabetes, your chance of having a heart attack is just as high as someone without diabetes who has already had one heart attack.
The link between heart disease and diabetes Chronic high blood sugar levels damage the inner lining of blood vessels. This encourages the buildup of fatty materials that affect blood flow and cause the blood vessels to harden. When a blood clot forms in these narrowed blood vessels, a heart attack or stroke can occur.
Knowing your risk The best way to lower your risk of heart problems is to keep your blood sugar levels in check. The risk for heart disease is highest when diabetes is poorly managed.
But, don't think your risk of heart disease is nil even if your daily blood sugar readings are in target range. There is more to the puzzle than blood sugar. Some other health numbers offer more clues to your heart health. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) calls them "the ABCs of diabetes" and says you should know what your ABCs are:
A for A1C. The hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) test shows what your average blood sugar levels have been for the past two or three months. While daily checks tell what your blood sugar is day-to-day, A1C shows you the big picture of how well your diabetes is controlled. The ADA suggests a target A1C level below 7 percent. Your doctor may have a more specific goal for you.
B for blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood that travels through your arteries. Having high blood pressure makes your heart work harder and damages your blood vessels. This raises your chance for heart problems. Aim for a blood pressure below 130/80. The top number (130) measures the systolic pressure (the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.) The bottom number (80) measures the diastolic pressure (the pressure between heartbeats.)
C for cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance (lipids) in your blood. Your body needs some cholesterol. But when you have too much bad cholesterol, you raise your risk for heart attack and stroke. The ADA says you should know the levels of all four types of lipids in your blood:
Triglycerides should be below 150 mg/dL. High-density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol) should be 40 mg/dL or above for men and 50 mg/dL or higher for women. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) should be below 100 mg/dL. Total cholesterol is a combination of HDL and LDL.
Keeping your ABCs at or near goal levels may be your ticket to a longer, healthier life. If you don't already know your ABCs, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Meeting your target ABCs The same healthy habits that help control your blood sugar may also help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol:
Don't smoke. If you do, quit. Talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy or other options to help you. Lose weight if you are overweight. Even a few pounds can improve your health. Exercise regularly. Check with your doctor first before you increase your activity level. Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat or nonfat dairy. Limit saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. Limit alcohol.
Sometimes a healthy lifestyle may not be enough. Your doctor may prescribe blood pressure or cholesterol medication to help get your ABCs in ideal range.