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Keep the Beat: Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

Keep the Beat: Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

Along with Valentine’s Day on the 14th, February is also American Heart Month. While cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States, adults with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke than those without diabetes. Educating yourself on cardiovascular disease and how to care for your body can help reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke, and keep you healthy for years to come.

Heart Disease

People with diabetes are at an increased risk for coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. Coronary artery disease, also called hardening of the arteries, occurs when fatty deposits, called plaques, narrow or block these blood vessels in your heart. If plaque suddenly breaks, it can cause a heart attack. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking are important in decreasing the chances of developing coronary artery disease.

Congestive heart failure is an ongoing condition where the heart loses the ability to pump blood effectively, and can be caused by a number of factors, such as heart attack, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle), and high blood pressure. In congestive heart failure, another heart condition, fluid builds up inside body tissues, such as the lungs, making breathing become difficult.

Symptoms of Heart Attack

Below are some common symptoms of a heart attack. You may not experience all of these symptoms, and they may come and go. Chest pain that does not subside after resting may signal a heart attack. Diabetes can cause nerve damage that may make heart attacks painless or “silent.”

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in your arms, back, jaw, neck, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Indigestion or nausea
  • Light-headedness
  • Tiredness or fatigue

If you develop any symptoms of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 and seek medical attention immediately. Early treatment may decrease potential damage to your heart.


A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is suddenly interrupted, leading to brain tissue damage. Most strokes occur due to a blood clot blocking a blood vessel in the brain or neck. A stroke can cause movement problems, pain, numbness, and problems with thinking, remembering, or speaking. Some people may also experience emotional issues, such as depression, after a stroke. And, yes, people with diabetes have a higher risk of having a stroke.

Warning Signs of a Stroke

FAST is an easy, quick way to remember the sudden signs of a stroke. Even children can help learn to identify stroke symptoms. If the blood flow to your brain is blocked for a short time, you might have one or more of the warning signs temporarily, meaning you’ve had a TIA (mini-stroke), which can put you at risk for a stroke in the future.

Face Drooping: does one side of the face droop or is in numb? Ask the person to smile, is the smile uneven?

Arm Weakness: is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms, does one drift downward?

Speech Difficulty: is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “the sky is blue”, is it repeated correctly?

Time to call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital right away. Check the time so that you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Other typical warning signs of a stroke develop suddenly and can include:

  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
  • Trouble talking
  • Dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking
  • Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Double vision
  • Severe headache with no known cause

If you spot any of these warning signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Getting treatment as soon as possible after a stroke can help prevent permanent brain damage.

Take Action

Take action early and often to help ward of cardiovascular disease.

Keep Blood Glucose in Target Range: your healthcare team will help you determine your target range, and you can check on your efforts by having A1C tests at least twice a year. Most people with diabetes should aim for an A1C less than 7%.

Be Active: nearly everyone can benefit from getting more exercise. It’s good for your heart and can help control your blood glucose. Here are a few tips for getting started.

Eat a Healthy Diet: reduce consumption of high-fat and cholesterol-loaded foods, such as fried foods, chips, and baked goods, while including more high-fiber foods in your diet including whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Keep Cholesterol within Target Range: most people with diabetes should have LDL (bad) cholesterol below 100 mg/dL, HDL (good) cholesterol above 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women, and triglycerides (another type of blood fat) below 150 mg/dL.

Maintain Controlled Blood Pressure: have your blood pressure checked during every doctor’s visit. Most people with diabetes should aim for a blood pressure less than 130 over 80.

Quit Smoking: if you smoke, it may be a good time to talk to your doctor about quitting. Don’t be discouraged if you’ve tried before, many people take a few times before quitting for good.

Visit the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) website if you wish to learn more heart disease and stroke. You can also download ADA’s toolkit for helping manage diabetes and heart disease.

Editor’s Note: Content of this article was previously published in our News to Infuse newsletter, and because this issue is so important, we wanted to share with our LOOP readers.

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