10 Things You Need To Know About Heart Disease if You Have Diabetes

blood sugar tracking devices with a bowl of fruits and vegetables

If you have diabetes, reducing your risk of heart disease is key to improving your quality of life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the most important thing you can do to minimize complications and prevent heart disease.

Nisha Jhalani, MD, Director of the CRF Women’s Heart Health Initiative, put together the following list of things you need to know about living with diabetes.

1. Diabetes is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis.

It can affect all the arteries in the body leading to problems in many areas of the body, including your eyes (retinopathy), nerves (neuropathy), heart (coronary artery disease), and legs (peripheral artery disease).

2. The populations at risk of developing diabetes.

You are most at risk if you have a parent or sibling with diabetes or if you are overweight or obese. The risk also increases with age and inactivity. Some minority groups are also at greater risk (African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian Americans.)

3. Get moving.

Try to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week.

4. Eat well.

The Mediterranean, DASH, and vegan/vegetarian diets all help you lose weight and control your blood sugar. Instead of cutting out carbs completely, eat fiber-rich whole grains and avoid refined carbohydrates such as white bread or pastries. Replace red meat with lean meats, especially fish, and use portion control (meat portion should be no larger than a deck of cards.)

5. Get treatment for diabetes/prediabetes.

Healthy lifestyle habits will help you improve your blood sugar level and manage your diabetes. But sometimes it’s not enough. Make sure you talk to your doctor about medications that can help. Metformin is the first line of defense. Used to control high blood sugar, metformin can also help control weight and improve insulin resistance. Second-line treatments like SGLT-2 inhibitors and GLP-1 inhibitors have a proven cardiovascular benefit.

6. Use aspirin only if your doctor tells you to.

Aspirin is no longer recommended for primary prevention of heart disease. It is currently recommended in people ages 40-70 years old with the highest risk of developing heart disease who do not have an increased risk of bleeding.

7. Blood pressure control.

Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Anything over 130/80 is considered hypertension. If you have diabetes, ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are the preferred treatments.

8. Treatment of abnormal cholesterol levels.

If you have diabetes but do not have heart disease and are between the ages of 40 and 75, you should be on a moderate-intensity statin. If you are at a higher risk with other conditions, you should be on a high-intensity statin.

9. Goal: to prevent or delay atherosclerosis.

Adopting these healthy lifestyle habits can help you prevent or delay future symptoms or cardiac events.

10. Team-based care is key to treating your diabetes.

There are many people who should be involved in your care. Take control of your health by educating yourself about the healthcare professionals you should see on a regular basis. Make sure you have a primary care doctor. Other specialists you may need include an ophthalmologist, podiatrist, dentist, nutritionist/diabetes educator, endocrinologist, cardiologist, vascular specialist or nephrologist.

Want to learn more? Watch this video: https://youtu.be/KKCKgHPlhqE