“People with diabetes are at higher risk of heart disease as a result of insulin resistance and high blood sugar, both of which are damaging to blood vessels,” said Autumn Carroll, clinical pharmacist and diabetes educator at Mission Health. “This damage to blood vessels can happen in any area of the body, but when it happens to the arteries supplying blood to the heart, it can result in the catastrophic event of a heart attack.”
So what are some important things to keep in mind about heart disease if you have diabetes? Remember your ABCs:
A1C: A1C is the three-month measure of your blood sugar. “Reducing and maintaining an A1C as close to normal as possible, without frequent low blood sugars, greatly reduces [your risk of heart disease],” said Carroll. “Talk to your doctor about what your A1C target should be, since this can vary based on many different factors. For most patients, setting an A1C target of less than 7 percent is a great place to start.”
Blood pressure: High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, but can be especially bad combined with diabetes. “People with diabetes should be screened for high blood pressure, and if it’s higher than 140/90 mmHg on two separate occasions, then it needs to be addressed,” said Carroll. “Reducing blood pressure will greatly reduce your risk of heart disease, as well as kidney disease.”
Cholesterol: The same process of insulin resistance that results in high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes also increases cholesterol. National guidelines recommend most people with diabetes over the age of 45 be on a cholesterol medication for prevention. “There are exceptions,” said Carroll, “so it’s important to ask your doctor if you are someone who would likely benefit from one of these medications.”
So, what can you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease?
- Lose weight. If you’re overweight or obese, losing just 7 percent of your body weight will have dramatic results on insulin resistance and blood sugar.
- Eat healthy. Eating healthy means eating mostly nonstarchy vegetables with a smaller portion of lean protein and complex carbohydrates.
- Be active. Activity reduces insulin resistance. If you elevate your heart rate with activity on a consistent basis, your heart will get stronger and more efficient at pumping blood.
- Talk to your doctor about medications. Medications are valuable and powerful tools that have proven to dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease.
Autumn Carroll is a clinical pharmacist and diabetes educator at Mission Health. (828) 213-4637