Diabetes and Heart Disease
Did you know February is a great month to be thinking about your heart from a health perspective? February is American Heart Month and raises awareness for heart disease, a leading cause of death among men and women.
Common conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure can elevate the risk for heart disease. Other factors can too, including smoking, excess weight, and a family history of heart disease.
How can you be heart smart? Check your A, B, C’s
Use these ABC’s from the National Institutes of Health as a guide to monitor key levels in the prevention of heart disease.
A – A1c
Start by taking steps to manage your blood sugar as best you can. High blood sugar levels can cause damage to blood vessels and nerves. To better understand how blood sugar levels have been averaging, get an A1c test. This test measures the amount of glycated hemoglobin in your blood. It is a different process from the daily measurements taken with a glucose meter. The more glucose (sugar) that is in your blood, the higher your A1c value will be.
A typical goal is for an A1c value of 7% or below, but your doctor will recommend a goal personalized for your diabetes management needs. An A1c that is higher increases the risk of complications affecting your heart and other organs, so regular A1c testing is recommended (usually every 3 months).
B – Blood pressure
Blood pressure levels fall into 3 basic categories–normal, elevated, and high. High blood pressure means your heart is working too hard to pump blood throughout your body. According to the CDC 1 in 3 adults in the US have high blood pressure. Many people may not know they have high blood pressure but its effects can be serious if not treated.
The risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease is increased by high blood pressure, so it’s important to know what your levels are. If you have high blood pressure or are at risk of developing it, these steps may help control or prevent it.
- Make healthy lifestyle changes, including:
- Diet low in sodium and high in vegetables and fruit
- Regular activity (aim for 30 minutes, 5 days a week)
- Limit alcohol intake
- Quit smoking
- Manage stress
- Go for a walk or talk with a friend
- Use a mindfulness or meditation app
- Get a full night’s rest
- Take medication(s) as prescribed by your doctor
- Monitor blood pressure levels at home
C – Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by your liver and ingested through certain foods. Our bodies use this to make hormones, cell tissues, and support other important processes. Even though our bodies utilize cholesterol, maintaining a healthy level is important to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
A blood test will breakdown the cholesterol types into LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).
- LDL cholesterol can build up in the arteries leading to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, so the lower the number of LDL or “bad” cholesterol, the better.
- HDL or “good” cholesterol is the number you want to be higher, as it helps keep the bad cholesterol from collecting in your arteries.
Talk to your doctor about the frequency for testing your levels and what your ideal total cholesterol should be. Sometimes the doctor will prescribe medicine to help lower cholesterol in addition to healthy lifestyle changes, to reduce heart disease and stroke risk.
Since diabetes, lifestyle, and genetic factors can increase triglyceride levels, avoid foods with trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and highly refined carbohydrates which also raise triglyceride levels. If you are inactive your body will convert excess calories into triglycerides, so keep moving and striving to maintain a healthy weight.
Take steps to regularly track your blood sugar levels, medications, and weight through a digital app or printable logbook, and be aware of the factor diabetes may have in your risk for heart disease. With each choice you make towards better blood sugar management you are also bettering your heart!