Diabetes is a serious condition, not just because of what it can do to your blood sugar levels, but because of the damage those levels can do to your body over time. Commonly cited complications of diabetes are nerve damage (neuropathy), eye and foot problems, and gastrointestinal issues. But diabetes can hurt your heart too, and paying attention to the signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD), or heart disease, could be a matter of life and death.
The American Heart Association says that 68% of people over 65 with diabetes will die from some form of heart disease, and diabetic adults are 2 to 4 times more likely to die from heart disease than their non-diabetic peers.
Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can damage blood vessels over time, increasing the risk of heart disease. Blood vessel lining can become thicker and less elastic, increasing strain on the heart. Plaque may begin to buildup in damaged arteries, further narrowing constricted passages. If a build up of plaque ruptures, blood platelets will try to repair the damage, but clumps of platelets may cause blood clots.
For those with type 2 diabets, there are additional concerns. The insulin resistance present in those with type 2 causes higher levels of certain substances in the bloodstream, increasing the chance of blood clots. Blood clots can block arteries and cause heart attacks.
Certain conditions and lifestyle factors further increase the risk of heart disease in those with diabetes. Some of those factors are often associated with type 2 diabetes, and risk increases when multiple factors are present.
- High blood pressure/hypertension. High blood pressure is associated with insulin resistance, and a person’s risk for CVD doubles if they have diabetes and high blood pressure.
- High cholesterol. In those with type 2 diabetes, cholesterol levels are usually high before diabetes onset.
- Being overweight/obese. Being overweight increases heart disease risk and is associated with insulin resistance.
- Lack of physical activity. Exercising can reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Poorly controlled blood sugar.
- Stress. Anxiety and stress can cause arteries to tighten and blood pressure to rise.
- Unhealthy diet, especially those high in saturated fats.
If there are risk factors that you can reduce or eliminate, you can decrease your risk of heart disease and heart attack. And you’ll feel better too!
“NEXT” for signs and symptoms
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.