diabetes and heart health

Diabetes is a common health condition that can have a big impact on your heart. Research has shown that you’re twice as likely to have a stroke or heart disease at a younger age when you have diabetes. There are several types of diabetes. This article is mainly aimed at type 2 diabetes.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, refers to a range of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. It includes:

  • Coronary artery disease (which affects blood flow to the heart)
  • Arrhythmias (problems with the heart rate or rhythm)
  • Heart valve problems
  • Heart failure (where the heart can’t pump blood effectively)

Heart disease is a leading cause of death globally, but it’s often preventable. Factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, and obesity can significantly increase the risk of developing the condition.

How can type 2 diabetes affect the heart?

Type 2 diabetes has a strong link to heart disease. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control the heart.

People with diabetes are more likely to have other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease too, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and a tendency to have more inflammation in the body. All these conditions are caused by a common issue called insulin resistance (Please see separate blog).

Diabetes causes your body to be inflamed and thereby accelerates the hardening and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), leading to poor blood flow, which can result in heart attacks, strokes, or other vascular complications. It can also lead to diabetic cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle becomes weakened and less effective at pumping blood, leading to heart failure. However, diabetes affects all tissues in your body and can cause damage to all of them. Clinically the most important other targets are the brain (dementia), eyes (blindness) and kidneys (renal failure, hypertension).

Keeping the heart protected

Protecting heart health, especially for those with diabetes, involves a multifaceted approach. Firstly, managing blood sugar levels is crucial; keeping these levels within a target range can reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications. This can be achieved through a combination of medications, insulin therapy, and lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise.

A heart-healthy diet is an effective way to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. This includes eating a whole food plant based diet that is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium, and rich in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, potassium, magnesium and lean proteins.

Regular physical activity is another way to boost your heart health. Exercise is an essential component to achieve longevity and a long health-span. Our bodies need exercise to function at their best. It is difficult to generalise and heart patients may require a different exercise prescription than otherwise healthy patients, but generally speaking anything above 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise is very good. In order to get the best effect, strength, flexibility and balance training is also recommended.

Monitoring your heart health

Monitoring and managing other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are also essential. Regular check-ups can help monitor these risks and adjust treatment if needed.

If you smoke, quitting significantly reduces the risk of heart disease and other health problems associated with diabetes. Stress management is also important, as stress can negatively impact blood glucose levels and heart health.

With proactive management and regular check-ups, those with diabetes can significantly reduce their risk of heart disease and maintain a healthy, active life.

If you have diabetes and would like help from an expert cardiologist to monitor your heart health as well as advice for keeping your heart healthy, schedule an appointment with Dr Konrad Grosser.