Diabetic Heart Disease

January 26, 2012

Understanding the link between diabetes and heart disease

Diabetes is dangerous enough on its own, but it can also cause other serious health problems. Along with diabetic eye disorders, chronic kidney disease and diabetic neuropathy, diabetes also causes cardiovascular disease.

Many people mistakenly believe that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a problem that comes with old age. In fact, CVD is increasingly being diagnosed in younger adults, and that’s part of the reason why it has become one of the world’s – and Thailand’s – biggest killers. And the problem is only getting worse.

It may be surprising to hear that diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially among patients who’ve had diabetes for many years and for patients whose diabetes is poorly controlled.

To better understand the connection between diabetes and CVD, Better Health sought the expertise of Dr. Varaphon Vongthavaravat, a US board certified endocrinologist specializing in diabetes and metabolism disorders. Dr. Varaphon sheds light on the importance of keeping diabetes under control to prevent diabetic heart disease, a leading cause of death among diabetes patients.


Heart disease risk

Diabetes is a disease marked by high levels of blood sugar that cause cell malfunctions and damage the walls of blood vessels and arteries. “Diabetes patients with uncontrolled blood sugar are 50 to 80 percent more likely to die prematurely from cardiovascular disease than people without diabetes,” says Dr. Varaphon. “They are also more prone to coronary heart disease at a younger age, and with greater severity. Over time, high sugar levels cause serious harm to blood vessels, from inflammation as well as from hardening or narrowing of the blood vessels. And since diabetics have high rates of obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, they’re already at a tremendous health disadvantage compared to non-diabetics.”

Damage to blood vessels can occur without being noticed, and the harm can impact every area of the body. Some of the most common complications of diabetes include diabetic retinopathy (eye-related complications), diabetic nephropathy (kidney complications), peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage that makes it difficult for patients to feel injuries or wounds), and coronary artery rupture. Among all complications, coronary heart disease is the leading killer of patients with diabetes.

Live healthier

Not all diabetes patients will experience these complications. Lifestyle modifications can make a tremendous positive difference. “Though diabetes patients have a greater risk of heart disease,” explains Dr. Varaphon, “the good news is that the disease can be well-controlled if the patient adopts a healthier lifestyle, gets regular exercise, and takes sugar-reducing medication as recommended by his or her doctor.” 

For people concerned about their own risk of diabetic heart disease, Dr. Varaphon recommends reviewing the following check-list to see whether they;
  •     Have been diagnosed with diabetes before the age of 55 for men or age 50 for women;
  •     Have had uncontrollable blood sugar for at least five years or have been a diabetic for many years;
  •     Have high blood pressure coupled with elevated blood cholesterol;
  •     Experience chest discomfort, fatigue and shortness of breath. Be aware that chest pain may not be felt by diabetes patients due to the effects of neuropathy
  •     Are a smoker.    

If you answered “yes” to most of the above factors, you are undoubtedly at high risk for diabetic heart disease and should talk to your doctor about lifestyle modifications and other ways to reduce your risk. Dr. Varaphon emphasizes the importance of following a healthy, wholesome diet, getting plenty of exercise and following your doctor’s advice. These are fundamental to good health and quality of life for everyone, including patients with diabetes.

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