A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Diabetes and heart disease

Did you know diabetes and heart disease are linked?

People with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and both men and women are at risk. These attacks can happen earlier in life and be more serious, so keeping your diabetes under control will help lower your risk.

Man and woman jogging in the woods.

How do you keep your diabetes under control? Know your ABCs.

A: Know your A1c

Your Hemoglobin A1c tells you your average blood sugar for the past two to three months. Your goal should be below 7.0 percent for good control. Less than 6.5 percent for very tight control usually is recommended for younger patients.

High blood glucose levels will raise your A1c and over time increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, eye, nerve and kidney disease.

B: Know your blood pressure

Your blood pressure numbers tell you the force of blood inside your blood vessels. When your blood pressure is high, your heart works harder and that can increase your risk for heart attacks or stroke.

People with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure. In fact, two out of three people with diabetes have high blood pressure. The combination of high blood pressure and diabetes greatly increases your risk for heart attack, stroke and eye, nerve and kidney disease.

Keep your blood pressure below 130/80. This will help prevent these problems. If your blood pressure is too high, you can take these steps to help lower it:

  • Eat less salt.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take blood pressure medicine.

You may need a combination of two or three blood pressure medicines to get and keep your blood pressure in the safe zone below 130/80. Talk to your health care provider if you feel you need more control with your blood pressure.

C: Know your cholesterol

A cholesterol blood test tells you how much of the fat that clogs blood vessels is in your blood. There are different types of cholesterol:

  • LDL cholesterol, known as the “bad cholesterol,” can narrow and block the blood vessels and cause heart attacks and strokes. Keeping your LDL low (less than 100mg/dl) protects your heart.
  • HDL cholesterol, which is the “good cholesterol,” helps stop the blood vessels from getting clogged by removing these deposits from the blood vessels. Keeping your HDL high (greater than 45 mg/dl for men and greater than 55 mg/dl for women) protects your heart.
  • Triglycerides, another type of fat found in the blood, raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. Keeping your triglycerides low (less than 150 mg/dl) protects your heart.

If your cholesterol and triglyceride blood levels are out of control, you can take steps to correct them:

  • Choose low-fat foods and, especially, low-fat dairy products.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose whole grain bread and cereals.
  • Work with your diabetes educators and dietitians to develop your own meal plan.
  • Try to exercise 30 minutes most days.
  • Talk to your health care provider about medication. You may need more than one medicine to reach your goal.

Remember, to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke even more, know your ABCs. Talk to your health care provider, discuss your goals, and work out a plan to reach these goals.

If you smoke, get help to quit. Take your medication and see your health care provider at least every six months, on a regular basis. An endocrinologist can help you manage your diabetes.

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