Know Your Numbers: Diabetes & High Blood Pressure Major Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Stroke

By Dr. Brandei Wingard, Cath Lab Director, Southern Maine Health Care Cardiology and American Heart Association (Maine) Board Member

February is American Heart Month – a great time to focus on your heart health and what you can do to prevent heart disease to live a longer, stronger life. Diabetes and high blood pressure are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke, so I wanted to share some tips to help lessen your risk for developing them.



Diabetes is a condition that results in blood sugar rising to dangerous levels. Blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is your main source of energy and comes mostly from the food you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body’s cells absorb the glucose from your blood and use it as fuel for energy or store it for later use. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its insulin, or both. This causes blood glucose to rise too high, leading to many health problems.


Type 2 diabetes, known as adult onset diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. About 90-95% of American adults diagnosed with diabetes have type 2. It is most common in middle-aged and older adults but can appear in young adults. You’re more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are:


  • 45 or older.
  • overweight or obese.
  • don’t get enough physical activity.
  • have a family history of diabetes.
  • have had gestational diabetes.
  • have prediabetes.


These and other factors can increase your risk. While type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, younger people are developing it at increasing rates. Normal glucose is less than 100 mg/dL. Diabetes is diagnosed at a level of 126 mg/dl or higher on at least two occasions.


High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a treatable medical condition in which blood pressure, the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. High blood pressure is the second leading cause of preventable heart disease and stroke deaths, second only to smoking.


It’s known as the “silent killer” because often there are no symptoms, despite its role in significantly increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure is controllable with lifestyle changes and medications.


New guidelines cite that high blood pressure should be treated earlier with lifestyle changes and in some patients with medication – at 130/80 mm Hg rather than 140/90 mm Hg. The guidelines were published by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology and provide guidance for the detection, prevention, management and treatment of high blood pressure. Studies showed that more lives could be saved by addressing high blood pressure at this new lower level. Previously, high blood pressure was thought to affect 1 in 3 U.S. adults (32 percent). The new guidelines suggest that nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) have high blood pressure. So, if you have high blood pressure, you are not alone.


The hope is that this condition will be determined earlier, and so that people can begin lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, reducing dietary sodium, and exercising 30 minutes most days of the week. For most people, lifestyle changes will help bring down blood pressure numbers. Regular exercise and losing ten pounds can have a good impact on blood pressure. Blood pressure should be checked regularly throughout life to ensure it is controlled and when necessary, depending on risk, medication might be added.


You can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by taking these actions:

  • Talk to your doctor at your next appointment.
  • Implement lifestyle changes – including healthy eating habits, weight loss and increased physical activity. Even small increases in activity can make a large difference.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Properly manage stress.
  • Monitor and keep track of your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and body weight as directed by your doctor.


Visit for resources to help continue the conversation with your doctor and your loved ones.


Leave a Comment