Heart disease and stroke are at the top of the list for causes of death in people with diabetes. And diabetes is now considered a major contributor to the development of heart disease. No wonder it's such a hot topic! Luckily, learning about the connection between heart disease and diabetes can help you prevent something serious from happening.
If you've just been diagnosed with diabetes and have no history of heart disease, you're already in a better position – diabetics with existing heart conditions may develop more severe heart disease. Why? Well, years of high blood sugar levels can cause damage to your blood vessel walls, especially in your heart or brain. When these blood vessels break down, you're at higher risk for heart disease or stroke.
What kind of heart disease is linked to diabetes? When you talk about the link between high blood sugar levels and the deterioration of blood vessels, you're looking at atherosclerosis (aka coronary artery disease or CAD) or congestive heart failure (CHF). Coronary artery disease is the slow narrowing of your heart's arteries, adversely affected by high levels of LDL ('bad') cholesterol in your blood. Blockage can result in a heart attack. Congestive heart failure doesn't necessarily mean that your heart fails, but often just has trouble working properly, causing you to fatigue easily. CAD and CHF are often related, and high blood pressure can also be a factor in their development.
What are the risk factors other than high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol levels? To limit your chances of developing heart disease, take a look at whether or not you fit into one or more of the following at-risk areas:
- Obesity. Weight loss can greatly improve your chances of avoiding heart disease, improve your body's insulin sensitivity, and also decrease your body's resistance to insulin.
- Lack of exercise. Getting some activity into your life can help reduce your blood pressure, and help reduce your risk for heart attack or stroke. The great thing is that almost any type of activity is helpful, so get out there and get active!
- Smoking. Quitting smoking is a no-brainer. And also a yes-to-life-er.
- Poor diet. Also a no-brainer, eating right can help tremendously. Make sure you keep monitoring your blood sugar levels when recommended, to keep them under control.
What else can you do to lower your risk of developing heart disease while already being diabetic? Aside from exercise and eating a healthy diet, try acupuncture. This ancient Chinese Medicine can help keep your blood sugar levels in check, improve your circulation, help with insulin levels, and can even help you lose weight.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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