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Diabetes & Cardiovascular Disease

Diabetes can damage the large blood vessels (called arteries) that surround the heart and carry blood to all parts of your body. The damaged areas of the blood vessels tend to trap cholesterol from the blood. In time, the large vessels become blocked. The heart has to work much harder to pump blood through the clogged vessels. This can lead to heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and poor circulation to the arms, legs and head.

Heart and blood vessel damage happens to people who don't have diabetes. But these problems happen three times more often and at earlier ages in people with diabetes.

The following symptoms could point to heart and blood vessel damage:

  • dizzy spells

  • chest pain or pressure

  • slow healing of cuts and sores

  • numbness or weakness in an arm or leg

  • leg cramps (may go away with rest)

  • swollen ankles

  • shortness of breath

  • irregular heartbeats

NOTE: These symptoms could be caused by other medical conditions besides blood vessel damage.

Causes of Cardiovascular Disease

Some possible causes may be:

  • Blood Fats (especially cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides) tend to be high when blood sugar levels are high. This increases the chance for blood vessel damage and heart attacks.

  • High Blood Pressure (more common in people with diabetes) also causes damage to the blood vessels.

  • Smoking can cause narrowing of the blood vessels when you inhale making it harder for the blood to flow. Nicotine makes the heart work harder, beat faster, and require more oxygen.

Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

See your doctor and diabetes healthcare team every 3-4 months to monitor your diabetes and any other problems. Tell your doctors about any problems, such as shortness of breath, chest pains, dizzy spells, etc. Discuss with your doctor or diabetes healthcare team ways to:

  • lower blood sugar

  • lower your blood pressure, if high, to an acceptable range

  • lower your blood fat levels ( cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides) to a normal range through diet, exercise and/or appropriate medication

  • stop smoking

  • exercise daily

  • learn to handle stress in your life

  • lose weight and remain within a desirable range

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