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The connection between diabetes and heart health

Learn how diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease or stroke, and what you can do to reduce your risk.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may also have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Adults with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people without diabetes.

However, when unmanaged, diabetes can damage your blood vessels over time. Excess blood glucoseBlood glucoseThe main sugar found in the blood, and the body’s main source of energy. makes the vessels stiff and causes them to fill with a fatty substance called plaque that can lead to blockages. This is how a stroke is caused—by damage to the blood vessels carrying blood and oxygen to your brain. If one of those blood vessels is blocked or bursts, it prevents blood and oxygen from reaching your brain.

And with an increased risk for stroke, it’s important that you and those around you recognize the common symptoms of a stroke.

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the signs of a stroke.
If you notice that your Face is dropping, or you experience Arm weakness or Speech difficulty, then it’s Time to call 911 and get immediate medical attention.

So, how can I lower my risk of heart disease or stroke?

Work with your diabetes care teamDiabetes care teamYour diabetes care team may include a primary care doctor, a diabetes and hormone doctor (endocrinologist), a registered nurse, a diabetes educator, a dietitian, a heart doctor (cardiologist), a foot doctor (podiatrist), an eye doctor (ophthalmologist/optometrist), a kidney doctor (nephrologist), a dentist, a pharmacist, and a mental health professional.  to ensure your diabetes is well controlled. In order to do this, you may need lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, medication, or a combination of both.

The importance of diet and exercise

As always, do your best to implement a heart-healthy diet that limits sodium and sugar and focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats. While changing your diet can help reduce your risk of heart-related problems, the use of tobacco products can still put you at risk.

When exercising, try to aim for a high heart rate and at least 150 minutes each week of moderate (like a brisk walk) to vigorous aerobic activity. This activity can be distributed throughout the week with a minimum frequency of three days per week and at least 10 mins per session. It's important to keep your exercising consistent; try not to go more than two consecutive days without activity.

Most importantly, keeping a positive mindset can make all the difference. There are millions of people with diabetes leading healthy lives, and you can be one of them!

Medication as a method of management

Many patients with diabetes may need to take one or more medications to manage their diabetes; it’s important to take each medication as prescribed. Your diabetes care team will be there for you every step of the way, so if you are running into challenges or if the side effects are difficult to manage, they may suggest alternative treatments.

Sometimes, patients with diabetes also have other conditions, such as extra weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. These factors can also increase the risk for heart disease. If you have any of these conditions, it’s important to work with your health care provider to manage them too.

It’s also very important to stay in contact with your diabetes care team about your progress. Diabetes management doesn’t happen overnight, so set goals for controlling your diabetes with your doctors. At each of your doctor’s appointments, it can be helpful to talk about steps you can take before your next appointment and how to track your progress.

How do I start the conversation with my doctor?

All it takes is one conversation to start reducing your risk. If you’re unsure of how to talk to your diabetes care team about taking care of your heart health, here are some questions to ask them: 

  1. What changes can I make to take care of my heart? 
  2. What resources can help me learn more? 
  3. How will I know if the changes I’ve made are making a difference? 
  4. What can I do before my next appointment?

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Caring for your heart when you have type 2 diabetes

Heart health and diabetes management go hand-in-hand—here are some ways for you to stay on top of both.


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