To date, close to 30 million adults and children in the United States — roughly 8 percent of the population — have been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The majority of these patients — 90 percent — have type 2 diabetes.
November 14th is World Diabetes Day
Because high blood sugar levels are toxic for our bodies, the presence of diabetes is associated with high risk for developing chronic complications in the kidneys, eyes, nerves and heart.
In spite of significant medical progress, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in patients with diabetes. Several known factors play a role in the progression of heart disease in the general population, including:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Abnormal cholesterol and/or high triglycerides (hyperlipidemia/dyslipidemia)
- Lack of physical activity
- History of smoking
However, for every one of these risk factors, patients with diabetes have a much higher risk of developing heart-related complications, such as heart attack, stroke or heart failure.
Another serious consequence of diabetes on the heart is damage to the integrity of the heart’s nerves, which control heart rate and function and the ability of blood vessels in the heart to function properly. This complication of diabetes was shown to be associated with a high risk for cardiovascular death.
Surprising research findings about diabetes and heart disease
Research from the University of Michigan and other organizations has recently revealed some surprising findings:
- Women who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have four times the risk of developing heart disease complications than men.
- Overall, women with diabetes have a much higher risk of developing heart disease than women without diabetes.
- In spite of a decline in the prevalence of cardiovascular complications among the middle aged general population (50-65 years), the prevalence of heart disease in those with diabetes (both men and women) continues to increase rapidly.
- Those with diabetes and high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol levels do not have the same benefit from medications to treat these conditions in preventing cardiovascular complications compared to individuals without diabetes.
- In those with high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, the prevalence of heart disease is nearly 3 times higher when a diabetes diagnosis is present. In patients with diabetes and damage of the heart nerves, the risk of dying from heart problems is 2 to 3 times higher, even if controlling for all other risk factors.
What can you do?
What can you do to reduce your chances of developing diabetes? The bottom line: Embrace a healthier lifestyle to offset the development of diabetes and associated heart disease.
Selected “healthy eating” patterns — mainly consisting of a higher intake of fruit and vegetables — were found to be associated with a lower risk of diabetes in various studies.
In particular, adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of diabetes in several studies. This suggests a detrimental effect of a diet rich in meat and processed carbohydrates and a favorable effect of a diet rich in olive oil, vegetables, fruit, nuts, cereals and legumes.
If diabetes has already been diagnosed, try to keep your blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol controlled by improving lifestyle and adhering to recommended treatment to prevent the development of heart disease and other complications.
Take the next step:
Attend the U-M Comprehensive Diabetes Center’s 7th Annual Diabetes Health Fair on November 16th. Learn more here or by calling 734-763-0177.
Dr. Rodica Pop-Busui is associate professor of the University of Michigan Internal Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Diabetes (MEND), and co-director of the Neuropathy Center at the University of Michigan. She has served and continues to serve as site principal investigator or co-investigator on several landmark type 1 and type 2 diabetes trials funded by the National Institute of Health, the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She has received awards from the American Diabetes Association, the University of Michigan and the Fulbright Foundation, and has published numerous papers of her work in high quality journals.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.