Diabetes and your heart - Primary Health

Diabetes and your heart

  • October 4, 2023

  • Adi Chandrasekhar, MD, MPH, FACP

  • 3 minutes

Because diabetes doubles a person’s risk of heart disease, diagnosis is key. Blood testing for glucose levels is easy and can be done at home.

We cannot overstate the burden of diabetes on the United States healthcare system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a whopping 37.3 million people in America (11.3 percent of the total population) suffer from diabetes. Close to one in four of these people do not even know they have diabetes. And when we look at prediabetes (a condition that can progress to diabetes), it impacts an astonishing 38 percent of all adults and 48.8 percent of those aged 65 years or older.

When it comes to diabetes, there are many misconceptions in the general population. However, perhaps none is more harmful than the view that diabetes is just all about elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels. While that is indeed the principal abnormality that leads to a diagnosis, it is only one aspect of how diabetes impacts your body. It is best to think of it as a condition that produces chronic inflammation in many tissues and gradually leads to various organ malfunctions. For today, we will focus on just one organ and how diabetes impacts it: the heart.

Diabetes doubles risk of heart disease

This is particularly important because most deaths in patients with diabetes are linked to cardiovascular disease. Diabetes doubles the risk of heart disease and also makes it more likely to present at younger ages. Heart disease is a result of plaque buildup narrowing the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Diabetes can hasten this process significantly by causing elevated blood pressure and elevated levels of cholesterol. Furthermore, diabetes can make symptoms of heart disease less prominent, causing patients to get delayed diagnosis of the condition. Diabetes also increases risk for strokes through a similar mechanism by narrowing the arteries that supply blood to the brain. 

Lifestyle measures and medications provide many ways to counter this risk. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can go a long way in reducing risk for heart disease. Similarly, avoiding tobacco and alcohol use can help lower risk. For overweight or obese patients, reducing weight can have a huge impact in improving diabetes control and lowering risk for heart disease. Better control of diabetes through a medication regimen is also key to reducing this risk, especially for those patients unable to control diabetes with lifestyle changes alone.

Diagnosis is key

But all this can only happen when patients know they have diabetes. As mentioned before, as many as one in four patients do not even know they have diabetes. Diagnosis is simple through blood testing for glucose levels or testing for hemoglobin A1C. This is a molecule whose levels indicate the average blood glucose level for the past three months. Testing can also be done easily at home using mail in-kits. Primary.Health empowers communities with easy, affordable at-home testing for blood glucose levels and other health conditions.

Disclaimer: This blog content and linked materials are not intended as individual medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered as such. Any readers with medical concerns should contact a licensed healthcare provider. This blog is provided for informational purposes only.

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