Diabetes, which affects the body’s use of insulin, has consequences for every system in the body — perhaps none more so than the heart.
About 30 million Americans — more than 9 percent of the population — have diabetes, and the rates are on the rise. By 2050, one in three Americans is expected to have diabetes. Over time, the condition can lead to devastating consequences, such as blindness, kidney failure, and limb amputations.
But the disease’s relationship with heart health is particularly worrisome. Diabetes is widely viewed as the strongest risk factor of all for cardiovascular disease. In fact people with diabetes are more than twice as likely to develop heart ills, compared to those without diabetes. And cardiovascular disease leading to heart attacks and stroke is the leading cause of death among people with diabetes.
In recent years treatment has significantly improved the outlook for those who suffer from heart attacks and stroke, saving the lives of many and preventing damage to the heart muscle that reduces the quality of life. Yet heart patients with diabetes are less likely to benefit from the advances.
How abnormal blood sugar endangers heart health has become clearer in recent years. Diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, tends to go hand-in-hand with conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and inactivity, that contribute to the risk of developing heart disease. In addition, the blood vessels of people with diabetes are more susceptible to damage inflicted by risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. High blood sugar and such risk factors appear to contribute to the development of low-grade inflammation in the artery walls.
That’s why efforts to prevent diabetes are so important. Evidence shows that even modest weight loss and a daily exercise habit can slash the risk of the diabetes in half. In addition to keeping blood sugar levels normal, quitting smoking and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check can also make a significant difference.
Those who have been diagnosed with diabetes can benefit from keeping blood sugar levels controlled and as close to normal as possible. That includes knowing how to monitor blood glucose levels and making adjustments to medication, diet, and exercise, accordingly. People with diabetes should also know their target A1C (typically lower than 7 percent), a measure of blood glucose control over time.
Patients who are newly diagnosed with diabetes or whose diabetes is out of control and are taking new medications for their diabetes can benefit from other tools, including GlycoMark® testing. The GlycoMark® blood test shows how often high glucose levels spike over a two-week period, catching problems before they would become apparent on an A1C test. which is typically repeated after 3 months. By indicating the frequency and level of the spikes in blood glucose, the test can also indicate the need for more frequent testing to keep blood sugar better controlled. Being able to make changes to dietary and drug regimens on a monthly basis, for example, can make diabetes treatment more effective and help prevent complications. Research has shown that the blood test is a good predictor of diabetic complications, including coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and death from all causes.
With a strong commitment to good health and such innovative tools, diabetes need not be as prevalent, cause devastating complications, or be as deadly in the coming decades.