If you have diabetes, you probably know that you have a higher risk for heart problems. But you may not know that you have a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes if you have prediabetes—a condition where your blood sugar is high but not high enough to be diabetes.
A new study, presented at an American College of Cardiology meeting in May, followed more than 25,000 people at the Beaumont Health System in Michigan for 14 years. Doctors tested participants by looking at their A1c levels—a measure of blood sugar over several months. Their blood sugar was tested again 5 years later.
The research showed that 18% of people with prediabetes had serious heart problems compared to just 11% of people who did not have high blood sugar. Unfortunately, even if people with prediabetes were able to bring their blood sugar down to normal levels, they still had a higher risk of a major heart problem.
Heart issues were strongest for people who were overweight. Other groups with prediabetes—men, Blacks, and people with a family history of heart disease or other risk factors—were also more likely to have a serious heart problem.
Prediabetes harms your heart the same way that diabetes does. The extra sugar in your blood causes inflammation in your blood vessels and damages them. Over time that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
It’s not the first time that researchers have found a connection between prediabetes and heart risk. A 2020 study that combined the findings from 129 other studies found that people with prediabetes had a 15% increased risk of heart problems and even a 13% greater risk of an early death.
Together the studies suggest that preventing prediabetes may be more important than doctors used to think. That means shedding extra weight you might be carrying, getting more active, and making good food choices.
Try to follow a diet with lots of whole grains, lean types of protein like chicken and fish, low-fat dairy, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. The heart-healthy Mediterranean diet is a good option. Limit fatty and fried foods and added sugar, especially in sweetened drinks. In a new study, people who ate 2 servings of fruit a day had a 36% lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
If you have already been diagnosed with high blood sugar, these same steps apply. Data show that the Mediterranean diet can also improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes and prediabetes.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, it may be wise to ask your doctor if you should have your blood sugar checked. Many people may have prediabetes but not know it, because there usually aren’t any symptoms. The sooner you act to head off high blood sugar, the healthier you—and your heart—will be!