You would have heard this reasoning many times – “Our lifestyle is responsible for most of the diseases plaguing us today” – be it for diabetes or heart disease. It is also suggested that the existence of one could lead to the other. So how are diabetes and heart disease related? Does one cause the other? Let’s find out in this article.
Relationship Between Diabetes and Heart Disease
Diabetes is a disorder in which your blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal. In Type 1 Diabetes, high blood glucose is because the pancreas produces little or no insulin for processing the glucose. In Type 2 Diabetes, the body is unable to use insulin well, thus causing high blood glucose levels.
Type 2 Diabetes is the more common form of diabetes, being present in about 90 to 95% of people with diabetes. It is related to the lifestyle of an individual and often occurs along with other lifestyle diseases.
Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease or coronary disease, refers to various conditions of the heart, the most common being coronary artery disease (CAD), the narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. Other heart diseases include arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle), and heart failure. Heart disease may lead to heart attacks and strokes.
High blood glucose in diabetes can damage the blood vessels of your heart. Over time, this damage can lead to heart disease. Individuals with diabetes tend to develop heart disease at a younger age than those without diabetes. Further, adults with diabetes are twice at the risk of developing heart disease when compared to adults without diabetes.
Does Diabetes Cause Heart Disease?
In a diabetic individual, the body cannot use up all the glucose (sugar), so more of it sticks to the red blood cells and builds up in the blood. This build-up can block and damage blood vessels and the nerves that control them.
Diabetes worsens atherosclerosis, the most common cause of heart disease. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of cholesterol (plaque) in the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrition to the heart. The plaque can cause your arteries to narrow and block their blood flow.
When the cholesterol plaques break down, the body tries to repair the plaque rupture by sending platelets to seal it up. Because the artery is small, the platelets may block blood flow and prevent oxygen delivery to the heart. This results in the development of a heart attack.
This process can happen in all arteries of the body, resulting in a lack of blood supply to the brain and causing a stroke or a lack of blood supply to the feet, hands, or arms and causing peripheral arterial disease.
Individuals with diabetes are also more likely to have certain other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Thus, people with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease as well as heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently.
Symptoms of Heart Disease in Diabetes
The symptoms of heart disease depend upon the type of heart disease and may vary based on its severity. Some individuals may not even have any symptoms until they have a heart attack.
The most common symptoms of coronary artery disease in individuals with diabetes are:
- Pressure, tightness, or pain in the chest that may spread to your jaws, arms, neck, abdomen or back
- Shortness of breath
- Pain, numbness, weakness, or feeling cold in your legs or arms
Treatment of Heart Disease in Diabetes
If you have diabetes and develop heart disease, your doctor may recommend the following steps for treatment:
- Changes to Your Diet: To ensure you include more fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. You would be asked to limit your intake of processed foods, foods with trans fat, sugary drinks, and alcohol.
- Regular Exercise: To improve blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Exercise is also meant to decrease abdominal fat and keep your weight in a healthy range.
- Medications: To treat heart disease, including blood thinners, statins (to reduce low-density lipoprotein or ‘bad’ cholesterol), and antihypertensives (to lower your blood pressure levels)
- Surgery: In some cases, and may include coronary angioplasty, coronary artery bypass surgery, or a heart transplant.
How to Prevent Heart Disease in Diabetes?
- Blood Sugar: Check your blood sugar levels regularly. Perform the daily blood glucose checks as well as the A1C test that shows your average blood glucose level over the past 3 months. Aim to keep your blood sugar levels within the normal range.
- Blood Pressure: Keep your blood pressure levels under control and use medication if necessary. The target blood pressure value for those with diabetes is under 130/80 mm Hg.
- Blood Cholesterol: Manage your cholesterol levels with a healthy lifestyle and medications, if prescribed by your doctor.
- Weight Management: Keep your weight in the target range, and take steps to lose weight if you are overweight or obese. These steps include a healthy diet and exercise.
- Regular Exercise: Make regular physical activity a part of your lifestyle. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.
- Healthy Diet: Eat a heart-healthy diet, which includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, healthy fats, and a variety of protein-rich foods. Limit or avoid foods with refined carbohydrates, saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and salt.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking and diabetes narrow your blood vessels, so your heart has to work harder. Quitting smoking will lower your risk for heart disease and may improve your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
- Stress Management: Long-term stress can raise your blood glucose and blood pressure, and make you more prone to developing heart disease. Take steps to lower your stress, such as deep breathing exercises, walks, yoga, listening to music, and spending time with your loved ones.
- Medications: Take your prescribed medications on time and do not skip them. The medicines to reduce blood pressure or blood cholesterol will protect your heart against disease.
Complications of Heart Disease in Diabetes
If left untreated, heart disease in diabetic patients can lead to serious complications including:
- Stroke: It happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked.
- Heart Attack: It occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked.
- Heart Failure: A chronic condition in which the heart does not pump blood as well as it should.
When to See a Doctor?
Contact a doctor immediately if you have diabetes and are experiencing one or more heart disease symptoms such as:
- Pain or pressure in your chest for more than a few minutes
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or discomfort in the arms, shoulders, abdomen, back, neck, or jaw
Don’t Have Time To Read?
- High blood glucose in diabetes can damage your blood vessels as well as nerves. Over time, this damage can lead to heart disease.
- Individuals with diabetes tend to develop heart disease at a younger age than those without diabetes.
- Those with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease as well as heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently.
- The most common symptoms of coronary artery disease in individuals with diabetes are chest pain/pressure/tightness, shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness.
- Treatment for heart disease in diabetes includes diet changes, regular exercise, medications, and in some cases, surgery.
- To prevent heart disease in diabetes, keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels under control. Further, manage your weight in a healthy range, exercise regularly, and follow a heart-healthy diet. Lastly, do not miss your medications, take steps to manage stress, and quit smoking.
- If left untreated, heart disease in diabetic patients can lead to serious complications including stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.
- You should contact a doctor immediately if you have diabetes and are experiencing one or more heart disease symptoms such as chest pain/pressure/tightness, shortness of breath, fatigue, sweating, or light-headedness.
- Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading diabetologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate blood sugar monitoring and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Diabetes Management Program which provides 360º care. Let’s treat diabetes together.
The symptoms of heart disease in diabetes depend on the type and severity of heart disease. Diabetes usually leads to coronary artery disease. You may experience symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, cold legs and arms, fatigue, and dizziness.
No, all diabetics need not suffer from heart disease. If you have diabetes, you can lower your risks of developing heart disease by following a healthy lifestyle and keeping your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels under control.
High blood sugar, in addition to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, can lead to heart diseases. Heart disease may cause heart attacks, However, diabetes damages the nerves too. You can have damage to the nerves that lead to your heart, legs, feet, bladder, and blood vessels. Thus, you may not get important signals like pain or discomfort and the warning symptoms of a heart attack may not be felt. This leads to silent heart attacks.
Yes, diabetes weakens your heart. Over a prolonged period, the high blood sugar levels in diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. This may lead to a lack of blood supply to the heart muscles, triggering a heart attack or heart failure. People with diabetes are also at higher risk of developing high blood pressure, cholesterol, or triglyceride levels, all of which contribute to the weakening of the heart.
Diabetics can keep their heart healthy through healthy lifestyle choices. They should keep their blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels under control. They should also follow a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly, and quit smoking. Furthermore, they should maintain their weight in a healthy range, consume their medications on time, and take steps to manage stress.