Guest Post: Diabetes and heart health go hand-in-hand

Over time, high blood glucose can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control the heart over time. It’s just one of the ways diabetes and cardiovascular health go hand-in-hand.

November is American Diabetes Month.

Diabetes is a mismatch of the body’s ability to handle the glucose and calories from food that we take in. It relates to our ability to metabolize foods with insulin within our body’s tissues.

Type 1 diabetes, sometimes called juvenile diabetes, refers to the autoimmune cause while type 2 diabetes generally occurs as people age, but can happen at any point in time. In the end, with both types, there’s an issue with how the body deals with food, and when foods are not processed normally, it can cause high blood glucose or sugar.

Dr. Asha Thomas, vice chair of the Department of Medicine and chief of the Division of Endocrinology at LifeBridge Health. (PHOTO COURTESY LIFEBRIDGE HEALTH)

When someone has high blood glucose, it puts a strain on the regular processes in the body. There are shifts of fluid that impact functioning and wellness. With diabetes, the body is unable to hold onto fluid because of the high sugar load, says Asha Thomas, M.D., vice chair of the Department of Medicine and chief of the Division of Endocrinology at LifeBridge Health.

People can become dehydrated, weak and thirsty, and urinate often. In addition, diabetes causes an increased inflammatory state in the body. This predisposes people to issues with the heart and heart disease. That’s why there’s such a close relationship between diabetes and heart disease, Dr. Thomas explains.

People with diabetes often have other conditions that also increase the risk of heart disease. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, specifically high LDL, or bad cholesterol.

“When these levels are high in the bloodstream, it can cause plaque on artery walls in the heart, creating issues with blood flow and heart damage and ultimately contribute to the hardening of the arteries of the heart,” Dr. Thomas says.

Cardiovascular disease includes all types of heart disease, stroke, blood vessel disease, and coronary artery disease specifically relates to the blood flow to the heart.

Risk factors for diabetes and heart disease include:

  • Smoking
  • A history of being overweight or obese
  • Little regular physical activity
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Diet high in saturated fats and sodium

If you have diabetes, you’re twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than someone who doesn’t have diabetes, and more likely to experience a cardiac event at a younger age.

“The good news is that you can lower the risk for a cardiac event by making lifestyle changes,” Dr. Thomas says. “Dietary changes, limiting alcohol use and implementing a regular exercise regimen can lessen the impact of diabetes on the body.”

Education is key: Dr. Thomas refers patients for diabetes education, which is covered under most insurances with diagnosed diabetes. This includes sessions with dietician to learn about crucial details to manage the disease and curtail its impact on essential organs like the heart.

“It’s not just about carbohydrates and sugar. It’s also about salt and it can get complicated,” she says.

Diabetes education is crucial for those newly diagnosed but also as a periodic follow-up to long-term disease management, especially with changes in the disease process, use of new technologies and alterations to medications.

Diabetes may be undetected for some, and others experience symptoms including weight loss, blurred vision, increased thirst, as well as unexplained fatigue after a meal, or generally feeling run down and tired. Dr. Thomas urges regular checkups and screenings to ensure the disease is detected.

Visits to the internist for routine physical examinations as well as regular eye and dental examinations are recommended. Oftentimes, she says, the ophthalmologist detects diabetes in the eye — the disease can manifest early in the small vessels of the eye, years before the patient would be aware of an issue.

Patients with diabetes are more susceptible to illnesses and infections. Dr. Thomas encourages that patients remain up-to-date with vaccinations and remain diligent of risk factors. Visit the internist and share the full medical history to assure complete coordination of care.

Editor’s note: This guest post was provided by LifeBridge Health, a #StrongerHearts Life is Why sponsor. To learn more about the #StrongerHeart initiative, visit: