National Diabetes Heart Connection Day | Health Improvement Methods

National Diabetes Heart Connection Day

One of the events observed during this November is American Diabetes Month. This month is a time for the community to come together to raise awareness and education towards the diabetes epidemic. There has been a lot of progress made within the diabetes community. However, there is still room for more improvements and increased awareness, which can, in turn, lead to an increase in prevention, earlier detection, and better management and quality of life. Thus, we would like to bring your attention to National Diabetes Heart Connection Day, which takes place November 9th this year. It is a day when many gather to highlight the importance of acknowledging and spreading awareness towards the connection between diabetes and heart health.

Some significant information found on the Diabetes Heart Connection website includes:

  • About 30 million Americans have diabetes, around 8 million are not yet diagnosed, and 86 million have signs of pre-diabetes.
  • People with type 2 diabetes have more than two times the risk of developing heart disease.
  • 2 in 3 deaths in people with type 2 diabetes are attributed to cardiovascular disease.

With this information, we see how diabetes is still a significant issue in today’s society. While diabetes can lead to complications in many different areas, cardiovascular health is an area of concern. In fact, studies have found a clear connection between diabetes and heart disease. People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease or a stroke (which can decrease their lifespan by 7-8 years).

The different types of cardiovascular disease to keep in mind (in which diabetes plays a risk factor) include:

  • Atherosclerosis 

It is when your blood vessels become stiff a narrow due to fatty plaque build-up. The lack of blood flow can deprive your heart of oxygen, which can cause coronary heart disease. It does not only affect the blood vessels of your heart- it can affect any part of the body. If the blood vessels in your leg become blocked, it can cause peripheral artery disease. If it blocks the blood vessels in your brain, it can lead to a stroke.

  • Heart Failure

It is when the muscles of the heart become weak to pump blood properly, and the heart is unable to supply enough blood to all parts of the body.

Signs to keep on the lookout for include:

  • shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in your:
  • Chest
  • Throat
  • Back
  • Legs
  • Neck
  • Jaw
  • Upper abdomen
  • Arms
  • Weakness or numbness in your arms and legs

How Can Diabetes Further Affect Your Heart?

Due to diabetes, high blood sugar can lead to damage in the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart. In fact, hardening of the arteries (which often occurs in the legs and feet) is often a sign that a person with diabetes also has cardiovascular disease. Other conditions that can affect one’s heart health include:

  • High blood pressure: This can increase the force of blood going through the blood vessels and arteries, which can lead to damage to the artery walls.
  • Too much LDL (the “bad” cholesterol): Having too much bad cholesterol in our bloodstream can lead to the formation of plaque, which can damage artery walls.
  • High triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood): A high level of triglycerides and a low level of HDL (good) cholesterol can also lead to the hardening of the arteries.

It is important to keep in mind that none of these conditions have symptoms. The only way to know for sure is by going to the doctor’s to get your blood pressure checked and a blood test that checks your levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides.

Other factors to be aware of include smoking, being overweight/obese, not having enough exercise, having a poor diet (high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium), and consuming too much alcohol.

Ways to Improve Your Health:

Just because you have diabetes does not mean that you will inevitably have a poor quality of life. By staying on top of your health, continuously educating yourself, managing your diabetes, and planning regular follow-ups with your healthcare providers- you can maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle. Here are some other ways you can take care of your heart and overall health:

  • Follow and maintain a healthy diet: Incorporate a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains into your diet. Try to lower your consumption of processed food (chips, fast food, sweets) and avoid trans fat. Also- instead of drinking sugary drinks or alcohol- aim to drink more water. Managing your blood sugar is also vital, so make sure you develop a plan to eat the right amounts at the right times to keep your blood sugar within the target range. Work with your doctor, dietitian, or diabetes educator in constructing a healthy management and meal plan that suits your needs.
  • Achieve/maintain a healthy weight: Obesity is a risk factor that can increase your chances of developing complications with your heart. Work with your doctor to figure out what is a healthy weight for your body. It may even make it easier for you to manage your blood sugar levels and triglycerides.
  • Exercise: Studies have shown that being active makes your body more sensitive to insulin, which can help in the management of your diabetes. Physical activity can also help you control your blood sugar levels and lower your risk of heart disease. Find an activity that you enjoy and set aside some time within the week/weekends.
  • Manage your stress: Stress hormones can increase your blood pressure and make it more complex to manage your diabetes. With the mind-body connection, your emotions/state of mind can affect how healthy your body is. We understand that managing diabetes and ensuring your heart health can take a lot of work and energy. Make sure to schedule a time to prioritize your mental health and reach out for any support you may need.
  • Remember to take your medication(s): Remember to take your medication as directed by your doctor. This habit will benefit you immensely in the long run. If you have trouble remembering, try using a pillbox or set an alarm as a reminder.
  • Follow up with your care team: Establish a system of communication with your care team. Actively work with them to form a treatment plan that will benefit you and your overall quality of life.
  • Get enough/proper sleep: Try to get your 6-8 hours of sleep each night. By getting a good night’s rest, you can reduce your stress hormones (which will help improve the management of your diabetes) and feel refreshed to start your day.
  • Manage your ABCs”:
  • Have your A1C levels regularly checked to measure your average blood sugar over 2-3 months (and aim to stay within the target range as much as possible).
  • Try your best to keep your blood pressure within the target your doctor sets.
  • Manage your cholesterol levels
  • Stop smoking/don’t start
  • Try attending a diabetes educational class: By working with a diabetes care and education specialist, you can learn how to avoid developing complications with diabetes or heart disease. They can answer any additional questions you may have as you start your treatment plan. These services can help you:
  • Make better decisions about your diabetes.
  • Understand your condition better.
  • Understand how to stay healthy and form a good care plan.
  • Understand how you can better take care of yourself.
  • Learn skills on how to eat healthy, be active, check your glucose, take your medicine, solve problems, cope with the emotional side of diabetes, and how to reduce your risk of other issues.
  • Remember to schedule/stay on top of your doctor visits: You must remember to go to your doctor appointments. During those appointments, make sure that you are completely honest with your doctor with whatever questions he asks.
  • Develop your diabetes care schedule: Managing your diabetes can sometimes take a lot of work. Work on a list/planner that helps you keep track of your self-checks, exams, and appointments throughout the year. It is essential that everyday you:
  • Check your blood sugar: Check several times as directed by your doctor. Keep a record of your numbers and share them with your healthcare team during your appointments.
  • Check your feet (immediately tell your doctor if you have any cuts, redness, swelling, sores, blisters, corns, calluses, or other changes to the skin or nails).
  • Make sure to take your diabetes medication every day.
  • Plan at least 150 minutes of moderate activity throughout the week.
  • Follow your personalized meal plan.

For every 3 months, you should have a:

  • A1C test
  • If there is a change in your treatment plan- or you are having trouble with your blood sugar levels- have this test done every three months.
  • Doctor’s visit
  • Your doctor will notify you if he requires a visit every 3 months. It may also happen if you are having any issues in managing your diabetes.

Every 6 months, you should have a:

  • Dental exam: Let your dentist know that you have diabetes.
  • A1C test: If you are meeting the goals of your treatment and blood sugar range, your doctor has you do this test every 6 months.
  • Doctor’s visit: If everything is going as planned and you are doing well, your doctor may only require a visit every 6 months. Within this appointment, your will have your blood pressure and weight checked. Your self-plan and medications will also be reviewed. Notify your doctor of any issues that may have arisen between appointments.

Every year:

  • Flu shot
  • Kidney tests
  • Cholesterol test
  • Dilated eye exam
  • Hearing check
  • Complete foot check

Sources: diabetesheartconnection.org, www.diabetes.org, www.cdc.gov

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