Diabetes is a condition that is characterized by elevated blood sugar levels. India has the unenviable title of being the diabetes capital of the world with a whopping 75 million afflicted with the condition. The combination of diabetes and heart disease is a worrisome one indeed.
In a person with diabetes, the increased glucose levels damage the blood vessels of the heart – the blood vessels can stiffen and this together with plaque deposition inside the blood vessels narrow them considerably. With time, the blood vessels get blocked completely causing a heart attack.
According to The American Diabetes Association, the risk of mortality increases by 2-4 times in people with heart disease and diabetes. Most people who suffer from diabetes also invariably have a heart condition.
Facts to Keep in Mind
Diabetes damages the heart vessels making them more vulnerable to atherosclerosis and related conditions.
People with diabetes have increased risk of hypertension.
The risk of heart attack and stroke in people with diabetes is high.
The risk of a second heart attack in a person who has already suffered it once is also more when coupled with diabetes.
A person with diabetes but with sugar level under control is unfortunately also susceptible to heart problems.
The blocks in the heart can also be more complicated for a person with diabetes.
Women who have diabetes and are approaching menopause also have a greater risk of heart disease.
Who Is at Risk of Developing Heart Disease?
Family history of diabetes and heart disease plays a huge role and such people should definitely be extra vigilant.
Uncontrolled cholesterol, especially LDL, increases risk of heart disease.
The relationship between smoking and heart disease is an exponential one in people with diabetes.
Hypertension: Elevated blood pressure reading is another significant risk factor and it is imperative that blood pressure be kept under control for those who have diabetes.
Obese individuals are at higher risk for both hypertension and diabetes. Fat around the tummy area is also a significant contributor towards developing heart conditions.
Inactive individuals too have a higher risk.
With increasing age, the risk of heart conditions increases.
Consumption of unhealthy and fatty food contribute to a heart condition’s onset.
Stress too affects diabetes by increasing the sugar levels significantly.
Diabetes – Why Is It the Silent Killer?
Diabetes affects the nerves and thereby reduces sensation. As a result, people with diabetes do not always feel the onset of ischemic pain. Thus, the sign is missed and people remain unaware that they are at risk of a heart condition. A number of studies have shown that people with diabetes do not show any symptoms of a heart condition when investigations have proven that they do have a significant heart condition.
Patients with diabetes are therefore advised not to diagnose themselves when they experience what they think is abdominal bloating or gastric pain. It is always better to get such symptoms checked by a doctor immediately. Screening too plays a huge role in identifying such patients.
The doctor will identify the patient’s risk for heart disease by monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol level. Sometimes tests like ECG, echo and treadmill test might be done.
Prevention Is in Your Hands
Preventing a heart condition in those with diabetes is indeed possible; all it requires is commitment to a healthy lifestyle, indulging in regular fitness activities and adhering to the medication prescribed by the doctor.
Food Choices: Fruits and vegetables as part of a high protein diet with whole grains is recommended.
Keeping Body Weight Under Control: Obese/overweight individuals have to make an effort to shed the excess weight through a weight loss program that is possible with achievable goals.
Stop Smoking: The ill-effects of smoking are too many to be named. Quitting smoking will go a long way towards protecting the heart.
Fitness: Half an hour of physical activity a day would be ideal to start with. If it is not possible, smaller durations of exercise too are fine – the activity levels can be increased gradually as the body gets used to it.
Stress Control: Stress, negative emotions, etc. all affect blood pressure. Try various methods like meditation and yoga to keep stress under control.
Medication: If the doctor has prescribed medicines, make sure you are regular with them and do no stop the medicines or change the dosage without consulting the doctor first.
Regular Check-Ups: Make sure you keep an eye on your blood sugar level and check your blood pressure regularly. Keep them stable. Huge variations in aforementioned parameters can adversely affect body organs.
Dr. S. T. Sakthi Suganya
Associate Consultant, Department Of Cardiology
Kauvery Hospital, Chennai