Medically Reviewed by Evans P. Holland, MD
About one in ten Americans have diabetes. And many of those 30 million people also have a heart condition. Diabetes often leads to a heart problem and the presence of both conditions increases the risk of poorer outcomes.
“We’ve seen increasing recognition of the link between heart failure and diabetes,” says McLeod Cardiologist Dr. Evans Holland. “Two out of three people with diabetes dies of some type of cardiovascular disease – twice as often as people who do not have diabetes.”
THE GLUCOSE CONNECTION
Researchers believe the association between the two conditions focuses on high glucose in the blood.
Diabetes describes a condition, where the body’s blood glucose (sugar level) is too high. Type 2 Diabetes – the most common form – results from the body’s inability to use insulin properly causing the blood sugar level to rise.
This high glucose level in the blood tends to damage nerves in the body from the heart, down to the small vessels in the hands and toes.
The condition can compromise the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, ultimately leading to fatigue and Congestive Heart Failure. More seriously, because diabetes damages the heart’s nerves, the patient faces the possibility of a “Silent Heart Attack,” in which the person has a heart attack with no symptoms before the attack.
This “gunky” high glucose blood hastens a buildup of plaque (a waxy substance) in coronary arteries that feed blood to the body, causing a condition called atherosclerosis.
MORE COMPLICATING FACTORS
Add excess weight or obesity to a person’s risk factors and the chances of heart problems increases. Other health issues that can accelerate heart problems include high cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension).
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
If you have diabetes, take your medication, exercise and eat a healthy diet. If you have a heart problem, see your cardiologist regularly. If you have diabetes but no diagnosed heart condition, see a cardiologist should you feel fatigue, have trouble breathing or have any chest pain or discomfort.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American Heart Association Journal, American College of Cardiology, European Cardiology Review, The Diabetes Council, US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention