Protecting Your Heart

Being in good health means having a healthy heart and healthy blood vessels. Heart disease is the most common long-term problem that occurs in people with diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to develop heart problems. This is because high blood sugar damages blood vessels. The high levels make the walls thicker and less elastic. This makes it harder for blood to pass through the blood vessels.

How do you know if you have heart disease? There is no way to totally avoid heart disease. Heart disease is best treated when it is detected early. Know the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack. About 50 percent of all people who die from heart attacks do so within an hour of the first symptoms and before they reach the hospital.* Learn the warning signs and call 911 right away.

Warning signs of a heart attack may include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest (the pain can last more than a few minutes or go away and come back)
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating
  • Pain that is not "typical" in the chest, stomach or abdomen
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and problems breathing
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue
  • Rapid heart beat, cold sweat or paleness

Many people with diabetes have nerve damage (neuropathy) and may not feel typical pain or discomfort. They may have a "silent" heart attack. Symtoms of a heart attack in these people may include dizziness, shortness of breath or nausea.

Important steps to take

It is very important to decrease your risk factors. Here are some guidelines:

  • If you smoke, stop. Nicotine narrows your blood vessels. It restricts the blood flow to the heart and the rest of your body. Smokers who quit smoking decrease their risk of a heart attack. There are many support groups, programs and self-help books to help you quit smoking.
  • If you need to lose weight, work with a dietitian. Even a small amount of weight can help to lower your blood sugar, blood pressure and blood fat levels.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise strengthens your heart. It also may help control your blood sugar, lower blood pressure and decrease blood fat levels. Talk with your doctor about the best exercise for you.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control. Lower blood pressure by losing weight, exercising, decreasing salt intake and taking medicines. The only way to know if your blood pressure is out of control is to have it checked regularly.
  • Keep your blood fats in control. If your cholesterol or triglyceride levels are too high or your HDL (good cholesterol) is too low, work to improve them by diet, exercise, blood sugar control and medicine.
  • Keep blood sugar in check. High levels of blood sugar may damage vessels over time. Keeping your sugar in a controlled range may help prevent or delay the onset of blood vessel damage.

How can your doctor help you? Work with your health care team to develop a heart healthy lifestyle. Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure, blood fat levels and overall blood sugar control. The only way to know what is going on with your body is to see your doctor regularly.

* Accessed 02/18/2014