People with diabetes are at a high risk of stroke and heart disease, as per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. When learning about the connection between diabetes and heart disease, it is vital to remember that those who have diabetes have double the possibility of developing heart disease, as stated by the American Heart Association. Patients with type 2 diabetes are more susceptible to heart disease and other complications.
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How Is Diabetes Linked to Heart Disease?
Uncontrolled diabetes and a high blood sugar level can damage blood vessels over time. This also adversely affects the nervous system, including nerves supplying the heart and blood vessels. Recent studies also suggest that high blood sugar can lead to inflamed blood vessels and also disrupt the blood flow to one’s heart.
When the arteries remain inflamed for a long time, it causes a buildup of plaque and cholesterol. As a result, your heart has to work harder to pump blood. Prolonged and uncontrolled diabetes also increases your risk of heart disease. These complications can be reduced only through managing one’s blood sugar levels.
What Are the Symptoms of Heart Disease in Those with Diabetes?
Some of the common and early signs of an attack include:
- Feeling weak or dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the legs
- Experiencing tightness, pressure, or pain in the chest behind your breastbone, which can eventually spread to your neck, arms, or back
What Are Silent Attacks?
The biggest risk factor among people with diabetes is that they often do not experience typical symptoms such as chest pain or tightness – roughly one in four heart attacks are silent. However, they may experience symptoms that whisper rather than shout. Patients with diabetes are more likely to have a silent attack, i.e., an attack where there are no symptoms or mild symptoms that most people wouldn’t connect to a heart attack. Some signs that you must look out for include the following:
- Waking up to unexplained wrist pain and sweating (most attacks happen in the morning when cortisol levels are high)
- Mild pain or discomfort in the chest
- Heartburn and indigestion
What Causes Heart Disease in Diabetic Patients?
When someone has diabetes, it also leaves them susceptible to other health conditions that multiply the risk of heart disease. This includes a surplus of bad cholesterol in one’s bloodstream, forming plaque buildup on damaged artery walls. A low HDL or good cholesterol hardens the arteries, thereby causing blockages and leading to a stroke or heart attack.
High blood pressure amplifies the risk of heart disease in diabetic patients as well. As the force of the blood increases through a patient’s arteries, their artery walls get damaged.
If you’re diabetic, overweight, or obese, you are more vulnerable to heart disease, as obesity affects your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. This can be prevented through weight control, exercise, and a proper diet.
If you lead a lifestyle where you are not physically active enough and spend a lot of time lounging around and just sitting, then chances are that you could develop obesity and high blood pressure, which can, in turn, lead to heart disease. This is why doctors suggest individuals engage in exercise in some form, such as dancing, walking, cycling, and so on.
Smoking is another habit that can cause heart disease among diabetic patients. Since both diabetes and cigarette smoke can lead to plaque buildup in one’s arteries, the chances of suffering from a heart attack or stroke are much higher among smokers than non-smokers. Certain cases also cause foot problems in diabetic individuals.
How To Prevent Heart Disease in Diabetic Patients
Here are a few ways you can prevent the chances of heart disease if you have diabetes:
Manage Stress Levels
When we are stressed, our blood pressure goes up. In such circumstances, we also tend to succumb to unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms, such as consuming too much alcohol or overeating. Instead of giving in to these desires, try to get help and adopt better coping mechanisms, be it talking to a mental health counsellor, opting for meditation, and journaling.
When you are physically active, the body becomes insulin sensitive, helping keep your diabetes in check. Therefore, exercise aids in controlling your blood sugar levels and lowering the risk of heart disease.
Medical experts often advise diabetic patients to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly exercise, such as brisk walking, playing tennis, and cycling at a relatively slower pace. Those opting for vigorous physical activities can think of jogging, swimming, and hiking.
If you’re overweight, it’s wise to lose a decent amount of weight to lower your blood sugar levels. This entails losing about 5% to 7% of your body weight.
Maintain A Proper Diet
Patients with diabetes must opt for healthy foods that regulate blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, overall cholesterol, fasting blood sugar levels, and triglycerides. Go for foods that are low in cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fats, and are high in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Whether you are out grocery shopping or wondering what to eat at a restaurant, pick fresh and whole foods. Limit your intake of packaged and processed food items, as they are often high in sugar and salt.
Your food choices can lower your risk of heart disease – including whole grain bread or pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, brown rice, legumes, and lean protein such as fish, eggs, lentils, and skinless chicken. Also, choose healthy fats, including seeds, nuts, avocados, and olive oil. Consult a dietitian to develop healthier eating habits.
How To Detect Heart Disease
When you visit a doctor, they will first ask you about your medical history and your family’s medical history to learn about your symptoms, health conditions, and whether anyone in your family has ever suffered from heart disease. You can expect to go through any of the following tests:
- Echocardiograms: An echocardiogram employs sound waves to develop images of a patient’s heart to monitor how well blood moves through it.
- Blood tests: A blood test checks the level of a patient’s total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides.
- Electrocardiograms (ECG): An electrocardiogram checks an individual’s heart rhythm and electrical activity. Through this procedure, a doctor can determine if someone’s heart is working too hard or if they have recently gone through a heart attack.
- Stress tests: By taking a stress test, you can see how your heart responds to physical activity.
- CT or CAT scans: A CAT or CT scan can produce cross-sectional images of your heart.