There is a strong link between diabetes and heart disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 65 percent of people with Type I or Type II diabetes die of a heart attack or stroke. Even at the time of diagnosis, many diabetics already have heart disease (past heart attack, peripheral vascular disease, or EKG changes). Many patients with diabetes have multiple risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, cholesterol abnormalities, and obesity.
Explaining the connection between heart disease and diabetics is complicated. In simple terms, high blood sugars levels can contribute to the build-up of fatty materials on the insides of blood vessel walls. This in turn can cause abnormal blood flow, leading to increased chance of clogging and hardening of blood vessels. Chronic inflammation may also play a role.
The good news is, diabetics have many ways to reduce their risk of heart disease. Good blood sugar control is important. Aggressive control of high blood pressure and cholesterol abnormalities is also vital. The American Diabetes Association suggests a goal blood pressure for people with diabetes of less than 140/90. Lower targets of less than 130/80 might be appropriate for certain people. In regard to cholesterol, in patients with known cardiovascular disease or over age 40, statin therapy is recommended. Statins are medications that can lower cholesterol, and also stabilize plaques in our blood vessels. Fortunately, safe and effective medications are available to help people meet their blood pressure and cholesterol targets.
Stopping smoking lowers cardiovascular risk substantially. Additionally, a low dose daily aspirin may be beneficial in diabetics at high risk for heart disease but is no longer recommended for low risk individuals.
Finally, lifestyle modifications can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease in diabetics. Diet, exercise, and weight loss can make a big impact! Try to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week and follow a diet that is low in saturated fats and salt.
Bridget K. Beier, D.O. specializes in endocrinology. She can be contacted at 412-942-2140.