Heart Disease Risk from Diabetes

Heart disease is a greater risk if you have diabetes. Because diabetes is all part of the immune system the control, or lack of control, of your blood sugars; does affect your other health risks, including developing this disease.

The majority of people who die from coronary heart disease are over 65 years of age, although there are factors that can cause younger people to be affected.  At the moment, reported cases show that men are more at risk than women and they are likely to get attacks at a younger age.  Having said that, women reaching the menopause age seem to increase their risk and if they are taking HRT (hormone replacement treatment) medication it can increase the risk factor for them even more.

If you belong to a family with a history of heart disease you may be more susceptible to developing heart disease yourself.

We all know that smoking is bad for our health and research has shown that people who smoke are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack compared to people who don't smoke at all. Just one more reason to become a non-smoker.

If you have high blood cholesterol levels you carry a greater risk of coronary heart disease, which is why measuring your cholesterol is an important part of your regular ABC tests. (ABC tests should be carried out regularly, at least once a year, or more often if you diabetes isn't fully controlled.  These tests measure your average blood glucose levels for the last 3 months - A1C; your blood pressure and your cholesterol).

Unfortunately, even with keeping glucose levels under good control, it has been reported that 80% of diabetics die from some form of blood vessel or heart disease.

Why is this?

One of the effects diabetes has is to coat the inside of your arteries.  The coating narrows your arteries, which means your blood has less room to move through and can cause blockages leading to more serious complications:

Heart Attack (acute heart failure): The additional coating of your artery blood vessels can lead to hardening of the arteries.  It can cause a blood clot, which means your arteries are blocked and your blood cannot flow freely through your heart.  Your heart (which is a muscle pumping your blood around your circulatory system) is damaged.  This brings on a heart attack or acute heart failure.

Symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Painful sense of pressure in the centre of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or disappears and happens again.
  • Pain spreading from your chest to your shoulders, neck and arms.
  • An uncomfortable feeling in your chest combined with a light headed feeling, sweating, fainting, nausea and/or shortness of breath.

If you experience any of these symptoms you must seek medical attention immediately.  Please, do not try to drive yourself to hospital or a physician.  Complications could occur before you reach your destination.

Heart Failure: This is not, as you might think, a complete stopping of your heart.  It means your heart is 'failing to work properly'.  It can be cause by blocked arteries; heart defects from birth or damage caused by a previous heart attack.

The failure is that your blood cannot get through your arteries at a good flow; your blood circulation is poor.  Instead your blood gets forced back into your veins.  This causes a build up which can lead to your feet, ankles and legs swelling.  It can also cause too much fluid to build up in your lungs, which causes pulmonary congestion.

Angina:  If you have extreme narrowing in your coronary arteries you may suffer from Angina.  Angina attacks usually happen after physical exertion, emotional stress or extreme temperatures.  It happens because your heart needs more oxygen to cope with these situations.  Because your blood flow is sluggish due to your narrowed arteries, your heart cannot get the oxygen it needs from your blood.

Treatment for angina is usually by drugs, although if it is severe you may need angioplasties to correct the narrowing of your artery walls.

High Blood Pressure (hypertension): This is thought to be caused by diabetes as well as your diet - especially if you consume a large amount of salt regularly.  Untreated high blood pressure puts undue pressure on your heart and can make your heart become abnormally large - this in turn can lead to heart failure and increases your risk of a heart attack.

Narrowed arteries, exacerbated by diabetes, restrict your blood flow and leads to all sorts of complications.

A healthy diet, exercising and not smoking (or passive smoking) helps you to reduce the risk of these problems as well as keeping your blood-sugar levels controlled.

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