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How Diabetes Affects Heart Attack and Stroke Risk

Diabetes is an insidious disease. Currently over 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes and 84 million are pre-diabetic. Many don’t even know they have the condition or that they are at heightened risk. That’s why diabetes is known as the silent killer – many of its symptoms are not readily apparent until serious follow-on disorders have occurred.

Most people associate diabetes with insulin injections, eye problems and even amputations. But they may be less familiar with its effects on the heart, including increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and heightening the risk of stroke.

How does diabetes increase the risk of heart problems?

Excess sugar in the blood causes damage to the structure of blood vessels and the longer you have untreated or under treated diabetes, the more likely you are to develop damage to your heart. This, in turn, can lead to high blood pressure and the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

It should also be noted that while diabetes and high blood sugar itself can cause damage, so too can the conditions associated with diabetes, most especially obesity.

Indeed, the biggest single risk factor for type-2 diabetes is obesity, which is often caused by poor lifestyle choices including a diet high in sugar, saturated fat and carbohydrates combined with a sedentary lifestyle. Excess weight can also put pressure on the heart by causing increased blood cholesterol levels and resultant high blood pressure.

So, is obesity the true cause of diabetes-related heart disease?

First, we have to differentiate type-1 and type-2 diabetes. Type-1 diabetes is congenital, meaning patients were born with it and no environmental factors affected its development. Type-2 diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus or adult onset diabetes is more often caused by environmental factors. However, some patients who develop type-2 diabetes are not obese. That said, the majority of patients with type-2 diabetes also have excess weight or obesity issues.

So, what is the solution?

The most important first step is to find out if you have blood sugar issues. If you are relatively sedentary in your lifestyle and have a poor diet, you increase your risk of diabetes significantly and should be tested more often. Regardless of whether you have diabetes or prediabetes, it is important that you change your lifestyle habits to reduce the effects of either one. This will include improving your diet as well as exercising routinely for half an hour or more several times per week – and that’s just the start.

You may also need to start a course of diabetes medication, if your primary care physician or endocrinologist suggests. Medication is very effective at controlling blood sugar and should be taken as prescribed.

Those with extreme obesity or who are unable to control their diabetes through medical intervention alone, may consider weight loss surgery or weight loss medication. Of course, seeing an appropriate specialist to understand if these options are right for you is the next step.

What not to do

First, don’t believe that diabetes is reversible – it is not. It is a chronic disease. Once you have diabetes, the best you can do is put it into remission, not eliminate it. Therefore, we urge you to take your risk very seriously.

Second, see your doctor if you are at a heightened risk of diabetes. Knowing that you have diabetes is very important and starting treatment early is just as important. Do not wait to see if you can handle it on your own.

Do not think that substituting sugar for artificial sweeteners will change your diabetic situation. The brain craves sweetness, not just sugar, which means that any form of sweet tasting food or beverage additive, regardless of the number of calories, can trick your brain into wanting more.

Diabetes is already epidemic in the United States and continues to grow in scope year after year. The CDC expects that up to 30% of Americans will suffer from diabetes by the year 2050 which will, in turn, increase the incidence and severity of heart disease in those patients.

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