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Diabetes and Heart Disease

Most of us know that diabetes can lead to severe complications, such as blindness, kidney disease, and amputations. But did you know that diabetes also greatly increases the risk for cardiovascular disease?

It's a fact: Heart disease, stroke, and their complications are the leading causes of illness and death in people with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), heart disease affects people with diabetes twice as often as people who don't have diabetes, and it affects them at an earlier age. According to the CDC National Diabetes Fact Sheet 2011, cardiovascular disease causes more than 68 percent of deaths in people with diabetes.

Diabetes accelerates the process of atherosclerosis. Thickened, clogged coronary arteries are twice as common in people with diabetes than in the general population--even if the symptoms of diabetes haven't surfaced. Because such damage begins early in life--often in young adulthood--aggressive intervention to treat all the risk factors for heart disease should begin before the age of 30.

People with diabetes also are two to four times more likely to have a stroke than people without diabetes, the CDC says.

Prevention tips

If you have diabetes, the ADA lists several ways you can reduce your risk for developing heart disease:

  • Keep your A1C (or hemoglobin A1C) level at less than 7 percent. This test measures your average blood sugar during the previous three months. You should have this level checked at least twice a year, or more frequently if recommended by your doctor.

  • Keep your blood pressure at less than 130/80 mmHg. You should have your blood pressure checked each time you visit your health care provider.

  • Keep your LDL ("bad") cholesterol level at less than 70 mg/dL through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and medications, if necessary. LDL is the main source for cholesterol buildup and blockage of arteries. Your cholesterol should be checked at least once a year.

  • Keep your HDL ("good") cholesterol level at 40 mg/dL or higher for men, and at 50 mg/dL or higher for women. HDL carries cholesterol from the blood to the liver, where it is removed from the body.

  • Keep your triglycerides level at 150 mg/dL or lower.

Lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk for developing heart disease include quitting smoking; losing weight, if needed; getting regular exercise; and eating foods with less saturated fat and cholesterol.