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Diabetes & Heart Disease

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What does diabetes have to do with heart disease?

People with diabetes are more likely to get heart disease. When you have diabetes, your blood sugar level is often much higher than it should be. Too much sugar in the blood can cause damage to many parts of the body, including blood vessels. Some lifestyle habits may also raise the risk of heart disease. Here are some things you can do to lower your risk:

1.      Keep your blood sugar level under control.

Keeping your blood sugar level under control will lower your risk of heart disease. Many people with diabetes check their blood sugar level every day to make sure that their medicines and diet and exercise are working to keep blood sugar in a normal range.

By exercising often and eating a healthy diet, many people with type 2 diabetes (the kind of diabetes you're not born with) can keep their blood sugar level nearly normal. A faster than normal walking pace for 20-30 minutes per day is often all the exercise that is needed to maintain good cardiovascular health.

2.      Lose weight--and keep it off.

Diabetes, being overweight and heart disease often go together. Losing weight helps a lot of health problems. For example, if you have been told that your blood pressure is too high, losing weight can bring it down. If your blood sugar level has been hard to control, losing weight can help.

Weight loss is important if you have a lot of extra weight around your waist and tummy. People who have a "spare-tire" or fat around their waist are more at risk for heart disease.

You don't have to lose a huge amount to lower your risk for heart disease. Losing even 10 pounds can help.

3.      Lower your cholesterol level.

Cholesterol is in many fats and oils, but it is not a fat. It is a part of many important body substances (like hormones) and body structures (including the brain and nerves). But, too much cholesterol in your blood can clog your arteries.

You've probably heard about "good" and "bad" cholesterol. Bad cholesterol or LDL cholesterol, which stands for low-density lipoprotein, can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol, which stands for high-density lipoprotein, carries unneeded cholesterol away from body tissues, so it lowers your risk of heart disease. HDL cholesterol is the only type of cholesterol that you want to be high.

If your doctor says your cholesterol level is too high, what can you do about it? It helps to lose weight and eat a healthy diet. Your diet should limit the amount of fatty and cholesterol-rich foods you eat.

There are many cookbooks available that contain low-fat, heart-healthy recipes and meal suggestions. If you need help figuring out how to change your diet, your doctor might refer you to a dietitian. A dietitian has special training in planning healthy diets.

If diet alone doesn't lower your cholesterol, medicines can help do that. You and your doctor can talk about these medicines. The medicine that is best for you depends on your special needs and medical condition.

4.   Increase your physical activity.

Along with diet, exercise is very important for people with diabetes. Diet and exercise work together to help your body work properly. If you have changed your diet to lose weight, exercising can help you lose weight faster. It is important to realize that exercise alone will not result in weight loss. It is a combination of diet, mainly through control of portion size as well as content, and exercise that will help you accomplish your goals.

You and your doctor can plan exercises that will work for you and be safe. You don't need a gym or expensive equipment to get good exercise. Brisk walking is great exercise. Climbing stairs instead of taking an elevator is another good thing to do.

Like eating a healthy diet, exercise will also help keep your blood sugar level normal and can lower your risk of heart disease.

5.      Control your blood pressure.

People with diabetes often have high blood pressure too. High blood pressure is a big risk factor for stroke. It also increases your risk for heart disease and kidney disease.

The same lifestyle changes that control blood sugar levels and lower your risk of heart disease may also keep your blood pressure at safe levels. Weight loss and exercise are important. The more weight you lose, the more you lower your blood pressure. It is also important not to drink very much alcohol.

If your blood pressure doesn't come down enough with diet and exercise, your doctor might have you take medicines that will help.

6.      If you smoke, stop smoking.

Smoking is bad for everyone but it's even worse for people with diabetes because it damages the blood vessels. If you have diabetes and you also smoke, you double your risk of getting heart disease. Worse still, if you keep smoking while you try to reduce other risks (like losing extra weight), you won't be able to exercise as much and you probably won't lose the weight you need to.