Over time, high blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart.
The longer you have diabetes, the greater the likelihood you will develop heart disease. Steps you take to live a healthier lifestyle and manage your diabetes also help to lower your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. For those without diabetes, following these guidelines can reduce or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
Knowing your diabetes ABCs will help you manage your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. If you have diabetes and smoke, stopping smoking is also important to reduce your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.
A is for the A1C test. The A1C shows your average blood glucose level over the past three months. This is different from the blood glucose checks that you do every day. The higher your A1C number, the higher your blood glucose levels have been over the past three months. High levels of blood glucose can harm your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, feet, and eyes. Ask your health care provider what your goal should be.
B is for blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the wall of your blood vessels. If your blood pressure gets too high, your heart works harder to pump blood. High blood pressure can strain your heart, damage blood vessels, and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, eye problems, and kidney problems. Talk with your health care provider to set your blood pressure goals.
C is for cholesterol. You have two kinds of cholesterol in your blood: LDL and HDL. LDL or “bad” cholesterol can build up and clog your blood vessels. Too much bad cholesterol can be a cause of heart attack or stroke. HDL or “good” cholesterol helps remove the “bad” cholesterol from your blood vessels. Another type of blood fat, triglycerides, can raise your risk of heart disease when the levels are higher than recommended by your health care team. Ask your health care provider what your cholesterol numbers should be.
S is for stop smoking. Smoking and diabetes can cause blood vessels to become narrower, so your heart has to work harder. If you quit smoking you will lower your risk for heart attack, stroke, nerve disease, kidney disease, eye disease, and amputation. Your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood circulation may also improve. You may also have an easier time being physically active. Smoking also increases your chances of developing other long-term problems such as lung disease. Smoking can damage the blood vessels in your legs and increase the risk of lower leg infections, ulcers, and amputation. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, stop. Ask for help so you don’t have to do it alone. You can start by calling the national quit line at 1-800-QUITNOW or 1-800-784-8669. For tips on quitting, go to Smokefree.gov
A family history of heart disease may also add to your chances of developing heart disease. If one or more of your family members had a heart attack before age 50, you may have an even higher chance of developing heart disease.
There’s good news — with lifestyle changes and proper care and support, diabetes can be managed and in many cases, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed. Taking care of your diabetes is important to help you take care of your heart. Manage your ABCs and develop or maintain healthy lifestyle habits. Developing or maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can help you manage your diabetes and prevent heart disease.
Follow a healthy eating plan that includes a variety of foods. Make physical activity part of your daily routine. Get plenty of rest. Maintain or achieve a healthy weight. You can’t change whether heart disease runs in your family, but if you have diabetes, it’s even more important to take steps to protect yourself from heart disease and decrease your chances of having a stroke.
To find diabetes prevention or self-management education and support programs in your area, look on the Kentucky Diabetes Resource Directory at https://prd.chfs.ky.gov/KYDiabetesResources/
Merritt Bates-Thomas, RDN, LD, LDE, is a diabetes population health specialist at the Green River District Health Department.