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Diabetes increases a person's risk of developing heart disease by 4 times.1 Approximately 50.3% of deaths in people with diabetes were caused by diabetes-related heart disease.2 Yet, not many know that diabetes can lead to heart disease. The longer you have had diabetes, the higher are your chances to develop heart disease. 5
When you have diabetes, it means you have higher levels of blood glucose.4 If you do not control your blood glucose levels, it can damage your blood vessels and nerves leading to the heart. 3 This can lead to heart disease. People with diabetes tend to develop heart disease at a younger age, compared to people without diabetes.3
The most common cause of heart disease in people living with diabetes is the hardening of the heart arteries, which is a build-up of cholesterol in our blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrition to the heart.5 When the cholesterol plaque in our body breaks, the body tries to repair the plaque rupture by sending platelets to seal it up.5 Because the artery is small, the platelets could block the flow of blood, not allowing oxygen delivery and a heart attack develops.5
The same process can happen in all of the arteries in the body, causing a lack of blood to the brain and may ultimately cause a stroke.5 Not just that, the lack of blood to the feet, hands, or arms may cause blood circulation disorder.5
In adult diabetic patients, the most common causes of death are heart disease and stroke.3 They are nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke.3
Heart disease develops and worsens over time, and it's hard to spot early on. There are no clear signs or symptoms. Most people living with diabetes only find out that they have developed a heart complication when they experience a heart attack or stroke. If this happens, it is crucial to get immediate medical attention in order to prevent further complications.
Here are some symptoms to look out for7:
Shortness of breath
Feeling faint and dizzy
Excessive and unexplained sweating
Pain in the shoulders, jaw and left arm
Chest pain or pressure
Indigestion or nausea
If you are living with diabetes, knowing your risk of developing heart disease is only the start of it. Besides watching your blood glucose levels, it's also important to monitor your heart health.
Here are some tips to maintain heart health3:
Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Lean sources of protein such as chicken, fish, and soy as well as complex carbohydrates such as whole grains are better for you.
Meanwhile, avoid simple carbohydrates such as soft drinks and processed food and cut down on red meat which are higher in fat and 'bad' cholesterol.
Pick something that you enjoy. It can be walking or jogging around your residential area, badminton with friends, dancing or Zumba, yoga, or even working out at the gym. Studies show that any form of static or dynamic exercise can reduce cardiovascular risk factors by 30% to 70%.8
The target blood pressure for those living with diabetes is typically under 135/75 mmHg.7 Visit a heart specialist or cardiologist regularly to monitor your heart condition.
Sleep lowers your blood pressure. When you do not get enough sleep, it means your blood pressure stays at a higher rate. This can eventually lead to other heart complications.
Smoking is one of the major contributing factors for health complications such as heart disease. Add diabetes to the mix, and you are at an even higher risk of having heart complications.
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1 Card Fail Rev. 2017 Apr; 3(1): 52–55)
2 Einarson, T. R., Acs, A., Ludwig, C., & Panton, U. H. (2018). Prevalence of cardiovascular disease in type 2 diabetes: a systematic literature review of scientific evidence from across the world in 2007–2017. Cardiovascular Diabetology, 17(1), 1–1. doi: 10.1186/s12933-018-0728-6
3 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke. Available on https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke. Last accessed 14 August 2019.
4 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes Overview, What is Diabetes. Available on: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes. Last accessed 15 July 2019
5 The Diabetes Council. The connection between diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Available on: https://www.thediabetescouncil.com/the-connection-between-diabetes-heart-disease-and-stroke/
6 Mayo Clinic. Heart Attack. Available on: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20373106
7 Management of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus 5th edition, 2015.
8 Medical News Today. Strength training tied to better heart health than aerobic. Available on https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323732.php. Last accessed 14 August 2019.