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The link between diabetes and heart disease

Last Modified: January 06, 2021

Heart Health, Diseases & Disorders

diabetes and heart disease

This post was written by Dustin Thomas, MD, PPG – Cardiology.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those individuals diagnosed and living with diabetes are twice as likely to develop heart disease or suffer a stroke. Unfortunately, diabetes and heart disease often go hand in hand, but there are steps you can take to lower your risk and improve your overall health and well-being. Before we discuss those strategies, let’s first look at the correlation between these two diseases.

What's the connection?

Plaque build-up, or corrosion in the arteries, occurs when there is inflammation in the body. Without this inflammation, plaque build-up is much less likely to occur. With diabetes, the concentration of sugar in the bloodstream is higher than it should be, and because of this, the body’s cells are resistant to taking in the excess sugar in the blood. The extra blood sugar then acts like tiny razor blades in the fragile arteries and causes significant irritation and injury. The body works to repair this injury, and in the process, plaque develops. This is especially true if the arteries are already compromised due to high blood pressure, high cholesterol or irritating substances in the blood vessels like nicotine.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing elevated blood sugars is the ideal scenario in preventing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A few of the best prevention strategies include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Extra weight makes it more difficult for the cells in your body to take up excess sugar from the bloodstream.
  • Regular exercise: Incorporating consistent physical activity into your daily routine helps your muscles take up the excess blood sugar so it’s not circulating in your bloodstream, wreaking havoc on your blood vessels. If daily scheduled exercise isn't in the cards for you, consider intentionally making lifestyle adjustments like taking the stairs, walking at lunch, parking farther away in the parking lot and taking time to get up to walk at regular intervals during your workday.
  • Choose your carbohydrates wisely: Avoid simple carbohydrates like sugary soda, fruit juice, white potatoes, white bread, white rice and pasta that can significantly increase your blood sugar. Instead, choose complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, berries, apples and broccoli. These choices will keep blood sugar levels more even as the body digests them.
  • Control chronic conditions that may lead to increased blood sugars: One example is sleep apnea. If uncontrolled, the condition can increase cortisol, often leading to elevated blood sugars. Properly controlled sleep apnea will go a long way in improving blood sugar levels.

Additionally, there are also a few treatment strategies that can play a part in lowering your risk and include:

  • Lifestyle modifications: Continuing the prevention strategies mentioned above will help in both prevention and treatment.
  • Medications: Some medications improve blood sugar control and significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular events. These medications may include:
    • SGLT2 inhibitors: These medications reduce blood sugar by eliminating it from the urine. They can also lead to weight loss and lower blood pressure.
    • GLP-1 receptor agonists: These medications reduce blood sugar by stimulating the body to secrete more insulin. They also slow the gut transport and suppress appetite, which can often lead to weight loss.

If you or a loved one are at risk for heart disease, please call Parkview Heart Institute and ask about an evaluation in our Cardiovascular Health & Wellness Clinic or Cardiometabolic Clinic.

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