Diabetes is unfortunately quite common, and becoming more so. According to the American Diabetes Association, as of 2012 over 29 million Americans (9.3% of the population, 8.1 million of them undiagnosed) had diabetes. Diabetes itself is potentially fatal, and is currently the seventh largest cause of death. But since we are primarily concerned in these articles about heart health, our question today is “Does diabetes increase your risk of developing heart disease?”
The answer is a resounding “YES.” If you have diabetes, you are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke. You are also more likely to develop these conditions at an early age. If you are middle-aged with type 2 diabetes, your risk of having a heart attack is just as high as someone without diabetes who has already had one heart attack. Pre-menopausal women generally have a much lower risk of heart disease than men of the same age, but women of all ages with diabetes have an increased risk because the diabetes cancels out the natural protections of being of child-bearing age. Finally, heart attacks in diabetics tend to be far more serious, with much more likelihood of resulting in death.
What are some of the risk factors associated with diabetes/heart disease?
As we pointed out above, diabetes itself is a major risk factor for heart disease, but if you have diabetes, your risk becomes even greater if your diabetes is combined with a family history of heart disease, smoking, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest “compound risks” is if you have diabetes and also suffer from “central obesity,” meaning that you carry additional weight around your waist. If you have a waist size of 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women, you have central obesity, and your heart attack risk is high.
Diabetes increases your likelihood of developing certain types of heart disease as well. Your risk of developing coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure is highest, but you are also at increased risk of having a stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack or “silent stroke”), peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and congestive heart failure.
Does having diabetes affect how my doctor will care for my heart?
Yes. If you have diabetes and are so far free of heart disease, you can expect your Delray Beach cardiologist to want to see you more often to help prevent it – at least once a year. If you have diabetes and show signs of heart disease, you’ll be seeing your Palm Beach heart doctors much more often.
Lifestyle changes that might be suggested strongly for non-diabetics (“You really should consider stopping smoking”) will become far more emphatic for diabetics (“You really HAVE to stop smoking if you want to live!”). If you are overweight or obese, working with your doctors to come up with a diet plan that not only enables you to lose weight but is “heart-healthy” becomes more critical. Developing a healthy regular exercise plan is also more important. High blood glucose levels associated with diabetes can lead to accelerated accumulation of plaque and fatty deposits in your blood vessels, so you will have to be more wary of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) than people without diabetes.
So if I have diabetes and I haven’t seen a Palm Beach Cardiologist, I should, right?
Right. Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean that you will develop heart disease, only that you are more likely to get it than someone who does not have diabetes. But it should also tip you off that you need to be much more proactive in getting regular checkups and following your doctor’s recommendations with regard to things that will lower your overall heart disease risk factors. If you have specific questions about diabetes and heart health, contact some of the top cardiologists in Palm Beach today at South Palm Cardiovascular Associates (561-515-0080) to schedule a checkup. A heart health checkup doesn’t take very long, and it could possibly save your life.