Protecting Your Heart When You Have Diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, you have a much higher risk of developing heart disease.  

So, in addition to keeping a close eye on your glucose levels, you and your doctor will want to monitor and treat conditions that contribute to heart disease, such a high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  

Treating your diabetes and reducing your risk of heart problems will include lifestyle change, such as eating a healthier diet and being more active, and possibly medications to lower your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

How Diabetes Hurts Your Heart

The connection between diabetes and heart disease starts with high blood glucose (sugar) levels. Over time, high glucose in the bloodstream damages your arteries, causing them to become stiff and hard.

In addition, fatty material builds up on the inside of the blood vessels and can eventually block blood flow to the heart or brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

High blood glucose levels from diabetes can also damage the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels.

Know Your Numbers

To help you stayed focused on the conditions and numbers you need to monitor, the American Diabetes Association and the American College of Cardiology have teamed up to create the ABCs of Diabetes:

  • A1c test: This blood test checks the long-term control of blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. It is different from the blood glucose checks you do every day. The higher your A1c, the higher your blood glucose levels have been over the last three months. Keeping your A1c level in your target range can help lower your chances for developing complications with your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, feet and eyes. Ask your doctor what your A1c target is. 
  • Blood pressure: High blood pressure can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Your blood pressure should be checked at every medical appointment and monitored at home as prescribed by your physician. The blood pressure goal for people with diabetes is below 140/80 mm Hg. Some patients, however, may be advised to keep their blood pressure lower than others, depending on their unique risks or needs.
  • Cholesterol: Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood. It is made by your body and also comes from the foods you eat.  If you have high cholesterol, it can build up in your arteries and is the starting point for heart and blood flow problems. Most people with diabetes are advised to be on cholesterol medications, no matter what their cholesterol levels are to prevent heart attacks and stroke.   
  • Stop smoking: It’s not easy, but quitting reduces your risk for cancer, diabetes, heart failure and other serious medical problems.