The diabetes-heart connection and ways to lower risk

November 17, 2023 | by NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

Diabetes can do a lot of damage to your health, such as nerve damage, vision loss and kidney disease. It can also lead to heart disease — the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.

What exactly is the connection between the two diseases?

Diabetes makes it difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar. Typically, when food is broken down and sugar is released into the blood stream, the increase in blood sugar (glucose) triggers the pancreas to release insulin, which helps move glucose into the body’s cells to use for energy.

In people with diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t release enough insulin, or their body doesn’t use it as effectively. As a result, their blood sugar level becomes higher than normal and, over time, this can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart.

“People who have diabetes are more likely to also have high blood pressure, which can lead to heart problems or stroke,” said Arman Qamar, MD MPH, an interventional cardiologist and the director of the CardioDiabetes Initiative at the NorthShore University HealthSystem, part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health.

The good news is people with diabetes can improve their health with lifestyle changes that will also lower their risk for heart disease. Some tips to keep in mind include:

  • Get regular check-ups. Staying on top of your health with your primary care physician is a good place to start. Regular physicals, including bloodwork, will bring any symptoms to light early when they’re easiest to treat. Tell your doctor if you experience any concerning symptoms.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. While there is a genetic component and not everyone with type 2 diabetes is overweight, carrying extra pounds makes people more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and puts them at higher risk for heart issues. Also, even losing a modest amount of excess weight can lower your blood sugar.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. This includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, less processed foods and sugary drinks, and no trans-fats. Drink lots of water.
  • Exercise regularly. An active lifestyle can make you less likely to develop diabetes even if it runs in your family. Being physically active can also help control blood sugar levels so you can better manage diabetes and lower your heart disease risk.

It’s also important to realize that being prediabetic doesn’t mean diabetes is inevitable. There are things you can do to avoid that diagnosis. If you are prediabetic, losing weight, eating healthy and regular exercise are three primary ways to reduce your diabetes risk that will also reduce your risk of heart disease.

Learn more about diabetes care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Drive your health forward at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness.

Your heart is in good hands when you choose us for cardiovascular care. Learn more about our high-quality heart care.
Get the most from Cardiac rehab 750x500

How to make the most of cardiac rehab

After the trauma of a heart attack or a heart procedure, one of the last things you may want to consider is committing...

Read More

Supplements 750x500

Breakdown of vitamins, probiotics and other dietary supplements

Trying to choose what you might need from the vast array of dietary supplements available today could easily overwhelm...

Read More

Woman talking with Dr 750x500

6 signs it’s time to see your doctor

Say you’ve been feeling well, all things considered, and a visit to the doctor is the furthest from your mind.

Read More