Common complication: Diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Dawn Holloway

Dawn Holloway

Heart attacks and strokes occur two to four times more among diabetics and account for 65 percent of deaths among diabetes patients. Cardiovascular disease also is the most costly complication of diabetes and a major factor in loss of quality of life for those suffering from the disease. Studies also suggest that silent heart attacks are more common among diabetics because of neuropathy or nerve damage development.

Because the American Diabetes Association says that, today, 23.6 million adults and children in the United States have diabetes -- including 9.7 million women, it’s important to point out the connection with heart disease during February’s American Heart Month observance.

Nearly 90 percent of diabetics have type 2 diabetes. As most adults get older, they have a tendency to gain weight and carry it in our abdominal area. With weight gain, people typically develop high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Having these risk factors is referred to as metabolic syndrome. All of these things work together to impair circulation, and that puts the diabetic at an increased risk for long-term complications -- especially heart attacks and strokes. If a diabetic also smokes, that doubles his or her risk for heart attack and stroke when compared to those diabetics who don’t smoke.

The goal for people with diabetes is to maintain a blood pressure of 130/80 and below; and an overall cholesterol of less than 200, with LDL (lousy/bad cholesterol) below 100, HDL (good cholesterol) greater than 45 and triglycerides less than 150. Some studies have indicated that having elevated triglycerides is a huge predictor of future development of type 2 diabetes.

To lower the risk for diabetes and heart disease, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking and exercise regularly. By doing some form of cardiovascular activity -- walking, using a treadmill, riding a stationary bike, etc. -- for at least 30-45 minutes four to five times per week, people can greatly lower the risk for diabetes and heart disease. The exercise should be continuous, increasing the heart rate. Weight training two to three times per week, in addition, lowers LDL cholesterol and increases HDL cholesterol. Most type 2 diabetics have high levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol.

Eating healthy is key to maintaining blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as blood pressure. Diabetics need to increase monounsaturated fats (healthy fats) in their diets and decrease carbohydrate and saturated fat (unhealthy fats) intake. Foods containing monounsaturated fats include canola oil, avocado oil, olive oil, olives, sesame seeds and nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans and peanuts). Foods containing saturated fat include products such as whole and 2 percent milk, regular ground beef, hotdogs, bologna, sausage and bacon. Try fish - such as albacore tuna, salmon and sardines - in place of higher-fat options.

Diabetics should visit their primary care physician every three to six months. At these visits, blood pressure should be monitored and yearly lab work for cholesterol should be done. Patients should consult their physician regarding the benefits of aspirin therapy.

For more information about diabetes or to enroll in a diabetes education course, call 865-977-5767.

Dawn Hollaway is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center, where she also serves as program coordinator. She also holds a master’s degree in public health.

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