Diabetes and Hypertension: What You Need to Know

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be scary. It can contribute to the development of, or worsen, nephropathy (kidney disease) and retinopathy (eye disease), and studies suggest there is a negative correlation between hypertension and peripheral neuropathy. Because the heart is forced to work harder, high blood pressure also increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

It’s estimated that approximately 75 million American adults (or 1 in 3) suffer from hypertension, and according to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 2 out 3 people with diabetes have high blood pressure, or are currently taking blood pressure medication to help lower it. With such a high number of people suffering from hypertension, you’d think it’s something most people understand at least fairly well. However, for many of us, the numbers our doctor gives us, and what they mean, remain confusing.

That lack of understanding can be dangerous because it can hinder prevention. So, we’re here to help you understand what hypertension is, including the potential complications and what you can do to minimize your risk.

blood pressure testing

Why Are People with Diabetes at Increased Risk?

While there are many factors that can lead to high blood pressure, there is a substantial body of research that notes the overlap between being overweight or obese and having both type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Having a diet high in fat and sodium and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle are also risk factors for both conditions, according to the same research.

Additionally, diabetes can damage the body’s arteries, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis (the narrowing and/or hardening of arteries). This causes blood flow to be compromised, and raises blood pressure.

What do the numbers mean?

Blood pressure is read as two numbers: the systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure, or systolic/diastolic.

Systolic: Refers to the pressure in your arteries as the heart contracts and pushes blood through the vessels.

Diastolic: Refers to the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats, when the heart is at rest, filling itself with blood for the next contraction.

Healthy blood pressure for a person with diabetes is said to be below 120/80. 140/90 or higher is considered to be high blood pressure, and anything between should be perceived as an indicator of early high blood pressure.

Stethoscope and pills on ECG

What are the symptoms of hypertension?

High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer” because most people don’t actually have symptoms, but rather learn there’s an issue from their physician. Incidents of individuals reporting headaches, nosebleeds, and shortness of breath have been reported in cases that were already life-threatening. That being said, it’s crucial to maintain regular check ups with your health care team to ensure you catch the problem and begin a treatment plan before it worsens.

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What can you do if you have high blood pressure?

  • If you smoke, quit
  • Reduce your salt consumption
  • Eat more fruits and veggies, and less processed foods
  • Choose whole grain pastas, breads, rices, and cereals
  • Opt for lean meats and healthy cooking options, such as grilling, boiling, and baking
  • Aim to exercise at least 30 minutes/day, 5 times/week. Remember: this time can be broken down into periods of 10 minutes or more
  • Consume alcohol in moderation and with caution
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Work with your health care provider to come up with a treatment plan, and explore options for medications that will lower your blood pressure without affecting your diabetes management
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