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Heart Disease & Diabetes:
Do You Know Your Risk?

By Brooke Duncan, Dietitian

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Blood sugar, monitoring, diet, insulin, medication … these are the words that come to mind when we think about diabetes. But what about the words “heart disease?” 

According to the American Heart Association, 68% of people diagnosed with diabetes over the age of 65 die from some form of heart disease, and yet a survey conducted by Harris Poll in 2018 found that less than 50% of people with diabetes recognized their increased risk for heart disease or have spoken to their primary care provider about these risks. There are a lot of complex reasons for this increased risk and unfortunately, people often learn about their risks after they’ve been diagnosed with heart disease.

Heart disease shares many of the same risks factors as those observed in poorly controlled diabetes such as obesity, elevated A1C, inactivity and elevated blood lipids. However, studies have shown that the risk for heart disease remains elevated, even in cases of well-controlled diabetes. 

According to one review, the increased risk may be attributed to both insulin deficiency and resistance, which ultimately promotes the risk of abnormal levels of lipids in the blood, increased inflammatory damage to heart and vessel tissue, continuous cell exposure to high blood sugar, and an abnormal ratio of harmful lipids in cholesterol. 

So why don’t we see more red flags around this serious issue? For many people it comes down to not being properly educated. Often the diagnosis of diabetes is a life-changing and challenging illness unto itself, so it’s difficult for health care providers to discuss heart disease on top of that.

Additionally, science continues to discover more about the link between heart disease and diabetes; so a lot of health care members are learning alongside their patients. 

Fortunately, community health programs have become more focused on the problem, which has resulted in the creation of public awareness campaigns such as the new ADA / AHA partnership initiative “Know Diabetes by Heart,” which focuses on empowering individuals with diabetes to take control of their heart disease risk. Additionally, the American Diabetes Association’s Healthy ABCs reminds people to monitor three primary measurements to help lower your risk of heart disease in the future. 

People with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease; however, with healthy lifestyle changes and continued monitoring, it is possible to reduce those risks. If you are interested in learning more about how to reduce your risk, reach out to your health care provider, your local diabetes education team, or go to www.diabetes.org or www.heart.org.