diabetes and heart disease

Every November the focus is on diabetes as charities raise awareness of the challenges of living with this condition. This year marks 100 years since the discovery of insulin, one of the 20th century’s greatest medical breakthroughs and still the only effective medication for diabetes, particularly of type 1.

Controlling diabetes, whether through insulin, lifestyle changes or a combination of both, is essential because if diabetes is not managed well for a prolonged period it can result in significant associated health complications, chief amongst them being cardiovascular disease. People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are more likely to be at risk of high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks and coronary heart disease is estimated to be the cause of death for 80% of diabetes sufferers.

What is the link between diabetes and heart disease?

Hyperglycaemia, or high blood glucose, combined with fatty acids in the blood causes a hardening of the coronary arteries. Known as atherosclerosis, it is a build-up of plaque, causing your blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrition to your heart to narrow. It also damages the nerves that control your heart. As a result, people with diabetes tend to develop heart disease at a younger age than people without diabetes.

The same process can affect all the body’s arteries, causing strokes or peripheral vascular disease if blood flow to the brain or limbs is impaired.

How can I lower my risk of heart disease if I have diabetes?

Making needed lifestyle changes is necessary to both help you manage your diabetes as well as keep your heart healthy.

  • Eat well; eating a wide range of nutritious foods and avoiding processed foods is the first step in keeping your blood glucose at a healthy level
  • Get active; regular exercise has many benefits for diabetes sufferers as it can make your body more sensitive to insulin, control blood sugar levels and lower the risk of heart disease
  • Maintain a healthy weight; the first two steps will help you to keep you close to or at your ideal body weight. Even losing a small amount of weight can have a significant impact on lowering your blood sugar levels
  • Stop smoking; nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, so it further narrows the blood vessels, making the heart work harder
  • Manage stress; as well as raising your blood pressure, stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as drinking excessively
    Manage your ABCs; this involves having regular A1C tests to measure your average blood sugar over a few months, keeping your blood pressure below a certain level, and managing your cholesterol levels

So, alongside your GP and endocrinologists that specialise in treating diabetes, an interventional cardiologist can also help you manage the condition and diabetics may be prescribed higher doses of statins that lower cholesterol levels. For more advice on managing diabetes-related heart disease, call 0333 444 1844 to arrange a consultation with Dr Konrad Grosser.