It's true—diabetes raises your risk of heart disease. That means your risks of heart attack and stroke are higher when you have diabetes. Diabetes is plenty to keep up with as it is. That explains why dealing with both heart risk and diabetes can seem like too much all at once.
But it's also true that good heart-health care has a lot in common with good diabetes care.
Most healthy choices that help control your diabetes also help your heart.
Add a few heart-healthy habits, and you'll lower your heart disease risk.
How are heart disease and diabetes connected?
When you have diabetes, there are times when you have a higher-than-normal level of sugar in your blood. High blood sugar can damage the walls of your arteries. This damage can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries. The plaque buildup can narrow and even block your arteries.
Your risk of having heart disease is even higher if you have:
High blood pressure, which pushes blood through the arteries with too much force. Over time, this damages the walls of the arteries.
High cholesterol, which plays a key part in the buildup of plaque inside the artery walls, making them narrow.
How can you lower your heart disease risk?
You can lower your heart disease risk by:
Keeping your cholesterol numbers at healthy levels.
Controlling your blood sugar.
Lowering your blood pressure if it's high.
This isn't as hard as it might sound. Many of the same healthy habits help control your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.
You're probably already doing more for your heart than you think.
Plan your foods with diabetes in mind. Then think heart-healthy, and make changes if needed.
Start with your carbs.
Try to eat about the same amount of carbohydrate throughout the day. This helps keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.
Use your favorite way to balance your carbs. Do you prefer carb counting or the plate format?
Add a heart-healthy focus.
Choose foods that are high in fiber and low in cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, and salt. That means fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat meats and dairy.
Cook with oil instead of butter.
Limit salty, processed foods such as crackers, chips, cookies, and canned soups.
If you need food tips that are healthy for both your heart and your diabetes, work with a registered dietitian.
Being active is good for your diabetes and for your heart. It helps manage your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. And it plays a key part in controlling your weight. In turn, a healthy weight also helps control your diabetes and heart risk.
Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.
Choose a way to be active that you enjoy. Walking is a good choice if you're just starting out or your time is limited. Resistance exercise also helps to improve your fitness level and improve your blood sugar control.
Day by day or week by week, add a little more time or effort to your activity. Build up to at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Watch and track your levels
Test your blood sugar levels. Know your blood sugar goals. Test your levels at home, and get your diabetes A1c tests on schedule. Every day, do your best to keep your blood sugar about the same, within your target range.
Know your blood pressure. For most people who have diabetes, the ideal blood pressure is below 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/80 or higher when you have diabetes. In between these two levels is called prehypertension. Many people who have diabetes or prehypertension can help lower their blood pressure by eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, and reaching and staying at a healthy weight. If you have diabetes and your blood pressure is higher than 140/80, your treatment may also include blood pressure medicine.
Know your cholesterol. Get your cholesterol tested on schedule. Know your LDL and HDL cholesterol numbers, and ask your doctor what your cholesterol goal is. LDL is the "bad" cholesterol, the kind that can clog your arteries. HDL is the "good" cholesterol. A high level of HDL can help protect you from a heart attack.
Keep good health at the top of your list
Work closely with your health professionals. Make sure that each doctor you see has all of your medical information, including test results. If you have questions about tests, medicines, exercise, or a healthy diet, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Don't smoke. Smoking can make diabetes worse. Smoking raises your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can make it easier to quit for good.
Take your medicine every day, as prescribed. Medicines work only as long as you are taking them.
American Diabetes Association (2013). Standards of medical care in diabetes—2013. Diabetes Care, 36(Suppl 1): S11–S66.
Redberg RF, et al. (2009). ACCF/AHA 2009 Performance measures for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in adults: A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Performance Measures. Circulation, 120(13): 1296–1336.
Smith SC, et al. (2011). AHA/ACCF secondary prevention and risk reduction therapy for patients with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular disease: 2011 update: A guideline from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology Foundation. Circulation, 124(22): 2458–2473. Also available online: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/124/22/2458.full.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.