Diabetes and heart disease are two of the most common chronic illnesses and causes of death in the United States. If you have diabetes you are two times more likely to develop heart disease as well. Properly managing blood sugar and supporting overall health can help keep diabetes controlled and prevent heart disease from occurring.
In this article, we’ll share more about the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease and some tips on how to stay healthy.
What is Diabetic Heart Disease?
Diabetic heart disease occurs when an individual has diabetes and heart disease at the same time. Usually, the heart condition develops secondary to diabetes. The ongoing effects of uncontrolled blood sugar from diabetes can slowly cause damage to the heart which can lead to a chronic heart condition.
Heart diseases that commonly develop from diabetes include coronary artery disease, heart failure and cardiomyopathy. Properly managing diabetes is an important way that you can make sure your diabetes does not worsen so that you don’t develop heart disease as well.
What is a Heart Disease?
It’s a fact: you cannot live without a functioning heart. As the leading cause of mortality in the United States, heart disease is both common and dangerous. There are many different ways that the heart can become damaged.
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of different conditions that affect the heart and vascular system. Common types of heart disease include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- Heart valve problems
Symptoms of heart disease will vary depending on the type of heart disease you have. Common symptoms of heart disease include:
- Chest pain, tightness or pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Neck, jaw, throat and upper abdominal pain
- Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in the legs or arms
Heart disease may be caused by preventable factors that can be altered or it may be caused by non-preventable factors. Common causes of heart disease include:
- Advanced age
- Family history
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet
Heart disease sometimes starts as one condition and then progresses into other conditions. For example, a person may start with high blood pressure which eventually becomes heart failure. This is because the heart has to work harder to pump blood when the blood pressure is high so it can lead to stiffening of the heart muscle.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is similar to heart disease in that it is one of the most common chronic diseases and causes of death in the United States. Diabetes is a chronic disease that involves insulin dysregulation.
There are multiple types of diabetes and each act a bit differently in the body. Diabetes either involves an issue with the pancreas, where it does not produce enough insulin or it involves the body being unable to properly use the insulin that is produced by the body.
Insulin is a hormone that works to keep the blood sugar at bay when we consume carbohydrates. All carbohydrates are broken down by the body and turned into sugar. Insulin allows the sugar from the foods we eat to enter the bloodstream so it can be used for fuel. For this reason, if insulin levels are too low, there will be too much unused sugar in the body, leading to hyperglycemia or high blood sugar.
Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is typically found in childhood and is caused by genetic factors, such as having an immediate family member who also has type 1 diabetes. Patients with type 1 diabetes have a pancreas that produces little or no insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is more commonly found in adults and is usually caused by lifestyle factors, such as being overweight and eating an unhealthy diet. In type 2 diabetes, the body is able to produce insulin, it just isn’t being used properly.
Common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Visual disturbances such as blurred vision
- Poorly healing wounds
- Frequent infections
Diabetes can be caused by a combination of different factors–some genetic and some environmental. Type 1 diabetes is usually caused by genetic factors and is diagnosed early in life. Type 2 diabetes is usually related to lifestyle factors, such as poor diet and obesity, although family history can play a part in both types of diabetes.
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease occurs when the coronary arteries have blockages that prevent proper blood flow to the heart. The coronary arteries are major blood vessels that provide blood and oxygen to the heart. Because the heart is a large muscle, it needs to have proper blood flow to stay oxygenated and pump properly.
When the coronary arteries become blocked, this can cause a variety of negative symptoms and side effects such as chest pain and heart attack.
Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body. This can lead to a backflow of blood causing pulmonary congestion and swelling throughout the body. Symptoms of heart failure vary depending on whether it is left-sided or right-sided heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes weakened or stiffened and can be secondary to other conditions.
How Diabetes Affects the Heart & Other Organs
Most people recognize diabetes as a blood sugar issue that mainly relates to the pancreas but diabetes can affect many parts of the body, including the heart and vascular system. Some other conditions that are associated with poorly controlled diabetes include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney disease and diabetic neuropathy.
High Blood Pressure
People with diabetes are prone to poorly controlled blood sugars which can lead to high blood pressure. Because diabetes can cause kidney damage, salt and water end up being retained due to poor kidney function. This causes the blood pressure to become elevated. Also, diabetes can damage the walls of the blood vessels, causing them to stiffen and function poorly, which will also cause high blood pressure.
Individuals with diabetes tend to be more likely to have high cholesterol levels as well. High cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Because diabetes can cause high blood sugar levels, which can lead to high cholesterol. This condition is also sometimes referred to as diabetic dyslipidemia.
Diabetes affects the kidneys. The high blood sugar that is associated with poorly controlled diabetes causes damage to the small blood vessels of the kidneys, causing them to stop working properly over time. High blood pressure from diabetes can also lead to kidney disease over time.
Diabetes can also affect your nerves, leading to a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels cause damage to the nerves which interferes with your ability to feel sensations in certain areas. Diabetic neuropathy commonly affects the distal extremities, such as the toes and fingers. This is why some individuals with diabetes have wounds that don’t heal properly.
Certain risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, shortness of breath and chest pain might make you more likely to develop diabetic heart disease.
Because obesity is a major risk factor for developing heart disease, it is important to maintain a healthy weight to avoid developing diabetic heart disease. When you are obese, your body needs more blood to supply the body’s tissues, causing the heart to have to work harder.
If you struggle with high blood pressure or hypertension, you are more likely to develop diabetic heart disease. Because high blood pressure becomes more likely when you have diabetes, it is even more important to maintain blood pressure levels when you have diabetes. If the blood pressure is high, the heart has to work harder which can lead to a variety of different heart diseases.
Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is a common sign of heart disease. If you have diabetes and you frequently experience shortness of breath, you may be exhibiting signs of diabetic heart disease.
Another common sign of heart disease is chest pain. If you experience chest pain, you should work with your doctor to figure out the cause since it may indicate diabetic heart disease.
5 Ways to Prevent Diabetes and Heart Disease
- Healthy Eating
Eating a diabetic-friendly diet can help you keep your blood sugars at bay and prevent heart disease. Also, a heart-healthy diet helps to prevent heart disease. Try to focus on eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and free from highly processed, sugary foods. Incorporate healthy fats into your diet, rather than trans fats and saturated fats.
- Stay Active
Exercising regularly will help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your heart functioning well. Aerobic exercises like walking, running, swimming or biking are great for heart health. Try to incorporate 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise most days of the week.
- Stay on Top of Doctors Visits and Blood Work
Seeing your doctor regularly can help you monitor your health and be proactive if any conditions do arise. Your doctor will help guide you with preventive cardiology visits and regular blood work to monitor your A1C. Seeing your doctor regularly helps them gauge how well you are controlling your blood sugars to see if any medications need to be adjusted.
- Adjust Risky Lifestyle Factors
Lifestyle factors like drinking and smoking can cause diabetes to worsen and increase your risk of developing heart disease or other secondary conditions.
- Incorporate Long-Term Healthy Habits
It is better to make small adjustments to your lifestyle that you can actually stick with, rather than making drastic changes that won’t last. For example, start slow when starting an exercise routine and make dietary adjustments you can actually stick to. You can eat a healthy diet while still enjoying foods that taste good. Learning to cook for yourself will make a huge difference since you can learn what types of healthy meals you actually enjoy.
Diabetes is typically a manageable condition but when left untreated it can progress into a variety of more severe complications. It is important to work closely with your doctor to monitor your diabetes and find a medication regimen that actually works for you so that you can prevent complications like diabetic heart disease from arising.