Diabetes can affect you in many ways: it can commonly cause problems with your eyes, your kidneys, your nerves, and your blood vessels. Unfortunately, it also can have a major impact on your heart. People with diabetes have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels).
The Connection Between Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease
One of the side effects of diabetes is that it can damage your blood vessels. This adds risk to other factors that can damage your blood vessels further, such as smoking or high blood pressure. That’s why it’s especially important to do everything you can to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease if you have diabetes.
Five Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
- Maintain a normal weight. Getting regular physical activity will help you maintain a normal weight. Losing as little as ten pounds can decrease your insulin resistance and decrease your blood pressure and risk for heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 2½ hours of physical activity a week. This time can include anything from sports or dancing to household work or another work-related physical activity.
- Lower your cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol levels increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Based on new guidelines from the AHA, doctors recommend that people with diabetes should be on a moderate- to high-intensity statin depending on their risk factors. Risk calculators are available online at the ADA and AHA websites or you can discuss with your doctor or health care provider.
- Control your blood pressure. When you have diabetes, your blood pressure levels are just as important as your blood sugar numbers and your cholesterol levels. If any of these numbers are elevated, it can increase your risk for diabetic complications and cardiovascular disease. This is why it is so important to “Know your ABCs” (hemoglobin A1C, blood pressure, cholesterol) and get help reducing them if any of them are elevated. If you are on medication for high blood pressure, it’s even more important to take it every day to avoid complications.
- Quit smoking. By now, it’s common knowledge that smoking is detrimental to your health in many ways. It is especially dangerous for those who have diabetes. If you have diabetes, you’re already facing an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Smoking further damages your blood vessels and increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease even more. If you smoke, get help quitting.
- Take all medications as prescribed by your doctor. If you have diabetes, it’s even more important to take your medications as directed, whether it’s insulin, statins, or a daily aspirin. The new aspirin guidelines recommend against taking aspirin if you don’t have a history of cardiovascular disease. A daily aspirin is still recommended for those who already have cardiovascular disease. As always, consult with your doctor before starting or stopping any medication.
Other Ways to Protect Yourself
As we enter into the fall, one big way to protect yourself is to get the flu vaccine. The flu can be a dangerous virus for anyone, but especially for those with diabetes.
If you do get the flu, make sure you continue to take your diabetes medication as prescribed and monitor your blood sugars closely. The stress of an infection can significantly raise your blood sugars even if you are not eating. You should always check your blood sugar and talk to your doctor before stopping any of your prescribed medications.
Get Help Managing Your Diabetes
Since diabetes can affect your whole body, it’s important that you get the support you need to manage this complex condition. If you’re an Independence member, in addition to your health care provider team, you can also count on our registered nurse Health Coaches. They are available 24/7 to help you manage your diabetes or prediabetes in a way that works with your lifestyle.
Join Us in Supporting Two Great Causes on November 2
The American Diabetes Association’s Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes (Philadelphia) takes place on November 2. As a team captain of the Independence Marchers to Stomp Out Diabetes team, I’m committed to helping those with diabetes lead better lives.
Independence Blue Cross also has teams walking in AHA’s Philadelphia Heart Walk on November 2 in Philadelphia. Join us in our fight against these diseases that affect millions of Americans.