How Unmanaged Diabetes Affects your Cardiovascular Risks

September 29, 2023

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Heart disease is one of the most common health conditions in the United States—it’s the leading cause of death for both men and women, accounting for about 25% of deaths each year. About one in 10 American adults have diabetes, and another one in three have prediabetes, or elevated blood sugar that could lead to diabetes.

And many U.S. adults have both conditions. In fact, when you have diabetes, your risk of developing cardiovascular problems doubles. The good news? Managing diabetes can also improve your heart health.

What does diabetes do to your heart?

Diabetes is a condition of high blood sugar. When your blood sugar is too high for too long, it can eventually damage your nerves and blood vessels. Damage to the blood vessels that support your heart can lead to decreased blood flow to the heart muscle. This seriously raises your risk of heart attack and also heart failure, when your heart doesn’t pump blood through your body as well as it should.

High blood pressure and high cholesterol are common in people with diabetes. Both conditions also increase the risk of heart disease.

How do I manage diabetes?

Thankfully, some lifestyle changes can help you manage diabetes and increase your overall health, including your heart health.

  • Get moving. Regular exercise helps to manage your blood sugar and improves your cardiovascular health. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week. Even 30 minutes of brisk walking five times a week makes a significant difference in managing diabetes and heart conditions.
  • Eat right. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for a healthy diet. In general, choose more fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limit your intake of processed foods such as chips, desserts or fast food.
  • Manage stress. Stress can increase your blood pressure, interfere with sleep quality and lead to harmful habits such as overeating or drinking too much alcohol. Deal with stress in healthy ways, such as seeing a therapist, confiding in a close friend, journaling, deep breathing or praying.
  • Follow the ABCs. And finally, diabetes management is all about the ABCs:
    • Get an A1C test regularly, as recommended by your healthcare provider.
    • Keep your blood pressure within the target range set by your doctor.
    • Manage your cholesterol.
    • Quit smoking.

How do I know if I have cardiovascular problems?

Your healthcare provider monitors your heart health through various blood and imaging tests. You may need to have these tests regularly to check for heart problems, especially if you have other risk factors such as a family history of heart disease.

There are also some warning signs that could point to a potential heart problem. If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away:

  • Chest pain or discomfort when you exercise
  • Chest pain along with tiredness or feeling short of breath
  • Resting heart rate above 100 beats per minute

A healthcare provider can help you manage both diabetes and heart conditions. Find an Adventist Health provider near you.