Diabetes and cardiovascular disease can be related

Published 8:25 pm Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tracey Respess

Tracey Respess


Research indicates a strong correlation between cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Heart disease and stroke are the number one cause of death among people with type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke is two to four times greater in a person with diabetes then in someone without the disease.

Diabetes is defined as high blood glucose levels due to the pancreas not making enough insulin or cells not using insulin properly. High blood glucose levels over time can lead to increased fatty deposit material on the inside of blood vessel walls and thereby affecting the blood flow to the heart and other organs. This is a condition known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the blood vessels.

Two major types of heart and blood vessel disease are common in people with diabetes. The two types are coronary artery disease and cerebral vascular disease.  Coronary artery disease is caused by hardening or thickening of the walls of the blood vessels that go to your heart. If the blood vessels are narrowed or blocked this inhibits blood supply resulting in a heart attack. Cerebral vascular disease is a result of decreased blood supply to the brain and causes a stroke or TIA.

A heart attack occurs when a blood vessel becomes blocked and impedes the blood supply to the heart causing damage to the heart muscle. During a heart attack, you may have chest discomfort or pain, pain in your arms, back, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea and light-headedness. However, these symptoms may be mild or even absent in some individuals, especially those with diabetes due to nerve damage.

A stroke results when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut off, depriving the brain cells of oxygen and causing them to die. A TIA is a temporary blockage of a blood vessel to the brain. It could result in a short-term weakness or numbness on one side of the body, however symptoms disappear quickly and permanent damage is not likely. The occurrence of a TIA may indicate an increase risk of a stroke in the future.

Diabetes alone is a risk factor for heart disease, however there are other factors as well. Family history is a significant risk factor. If someone in your family has had a heart attack at an early age, prior to age 55, your risk increases.

Unlike family history, there are several risk factors for heart disease that can be controlled. Central obesity or carrying extra weight around your waist is a concern. A waist measurement of more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women.

This abdominal fat can increase the LDL (bad) cholesterol, which leads to atherosclerosis, as mentioned previously. Triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood that can raise your risk when the levels are high. Your good cholesterol or HDL removes deposits from inside you blood vessels and takes them to the liver for removal. These levels should be as high as possible.

It is also important to maintain a normal blood pressure. Hypertension causes you heart to work harder to pump blood. High blood pressure can strain the heart, damage blood vessels, and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, eye problems and kidney disease.

If you smoke, stop. Smoking doubles your risk of heart disease. Both smoking and diabetes narrows the blood vessels.Even if you are an individual with diabetes, there are certain things you can do to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. Make sure you are following a heart healthy diet. This should include at least 14grams of fiber daily for every 1000 calories you eat. It also should be low in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Maintain a healthy body weight. Consult your health care provider about a goal weight for you and aim to loose 1-2 pounds per week. You may consider consulting a registered dietician for assistance in establishing a weight loss plan that is also heart healthy. If you smoke, quit now. There are several patient assistance programs and support groups to aid individuals to stop smoking. Ask around and research an option that may better assist you. Ask your provider about taking an aspirin a day. A low dose aspirin daily can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, an aspirin may not be safe for everyone, so ask before you begin an aspirin therapy. Finally, be aware of your risk factors, take charge of the things you can change and do not ignore the warning signs of cardiovascular disease.


Tracey Respess is a family nurse practitioner at Vidant Family Medicine Chocowinity and a certified diabetes educator.