You know by now that Diabetes and heart health are closely connected. Not only does having Diabetes increase your risk for cardiac complications, but many of the healthy choices you make can help you sidestep both issues.
On the other hand, poor choices can increase your risk for heart disease.
The most important concept to understand is that the same strategies you would use to manage either one will help you avoid both of them.
It starts with knowing the 8 questions all diabetics need to ask their doctor about heart disease.
While your doctor should discuss your heart disease risk with you, many diabetics still don’t ever bring it up. Maybe it’s due to the limited time of the appointment or because you just don’t know what to ask specifically. But please believe this:
Having a conversation about your risk of heart disease is a very important step toward taking charge of your health.
After 40 years of treating and teaching both diabetics and heart disease patients, in my opinion, here are the top 8 questions diabetics need to ask their doctor about heart disease (and why all health care experts believe it’s worth your time to ask them).
Do I have a higher risk of heart disease?
This is a good way to get the conversation started, but you shouldn’t be surprised by the answer.
➡ Diabetes is one of the largest risk factors for heart disease that we know of. And this is important:
➡ Patients who have diabetes but no heart disease have the same [heart] risk as someone who has already had a heart attack.
The seriousness of the risk, of course, depends not just on the Diabetes itself, but includes the following:
- Your blood pressure
- Your blood lipid levels
- Kidney health
- Family history
- Smoking status
- Your physical activity level
Overall, according to the American Heart Association:
➡ The risks can be cut and managed with the right treatments and those pesky lifestyle changes or modifications I’m always harping about…
Of course, some heart disease risk factors are beyond your control, such as your family history and your own previous medical history, but many of them can be modified.
At the top of this list:
➡ Control your diabetes.
Besides monitoring your blood sugar and taking any prescribed medications correctly, follow the right diet. If possible work with a Registered Dietitian (RD) or a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). They are the experts and will teach you what the typical doctor’s office visit will not – like how to control and keep track of your carbohydrates.
➡ It’s important to control not just your blood sugar levels but also your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Addressing these risk factors may require changes in your diet and medications both.
➡ And if you smoke, it’s vital to get the help you need to quit.
What kinds of exercise should I be doing?
No matter what your other risk factors are, it’s important to stay active. Exercise is a key ingredient. Numerous studies have shown that aerobic exercise and resistance training, in particular, help lower the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes.
Any steps you can take, such as yoga or meditation, to manage the feelings of stress, will also be good for your heart. Exercise itself is also a great stress reliever and can help you cope with difficult times, mentally and physically.
What foods should I eat or avoid to help lower my heart disease risk?
To lower your risk of heart disease, it’s important to pay attention to both your overall diet and to specific foods or nutrients that you should avoid.
For most people, these include saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and sodium.
How important is weight control when it comes to my heart disease risk?
While a healthy body weight is a worthwhile goal, it’s counterproductive to focus too much on your weight. The distribution of fat (where it is on your body) is more important, but becoming fit should be your most important goal.
Women, in particular, have a high risk due to belly fat, click this link to learn more:
Following a healthy diet and getting enough exercise will help you lose weight, but the effects of these habits on your blood pressure and lipid levels may be more important when it comes to your heart disease risk.
What heart disease warning signs should I look out for?
In many people, heart disease and heart attacks will be accompanied by the classic symptoms of chest pain, chest pressure, chest heaviness, and shortness of breath. But…there are patients who have none of those things.
On the other hand, diabetics may experience atypical symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, in the event of a heart attack.
➡ In addition, diabetics can have blockages they don’t even know about (this is called “silent ischemia”). The symptoms may not seem to be related to their heart. Without prior knowledge of this from their physician or cardiology specialist, serious damage and even death can occur.
Other symptoms can be found by clicking the links below and make sure to read the ones specific to women, which differ from symptoms in men.
- Heart Attack Symptoms: The Top 6 You Need To Recognize
- 7 Things Your Body Will Tell You Months Before A Heart Attack
- Chest Pain With Heart Attacks-That’s Not All There Is For Women
How often should I get my blood pressure and lipid levels checked?
➡ I strongly recommend the regular use of a home blood pressure cuff to many patients. For a variety of reasons, including stress, fear of the results, incorrect placement of the cuff, etc. the blood pressure readings in the office are not always adequate. In fact, they’re usually higher than a patient’s norm.
➡ All Diabetics should have a lipid panel — a blood test that measures cholesterol and triglycerides – at least once a year – more often if the levels have been high for some time.
Do I need a cardiac stress test?
Asking about a stress test can start a helpful dialogue about possible symptoms and exercise habits. It gives both the patient and the doctor an opportunity to really think deeply about whether they could be missing significant coronary disease.
Am I on the right medications?
According to the 2017 guidelines from the American College of Cardiology, almost all people with diabetes over the age of 40 should be taking statin medications to lower their risk of heart disease. If your doctor has not prescribed a statin for you, it’s worth asking about.
Prepare for your next doctor’s appointment by writing down these questions and adding some of your own.
I know we get tired of the word “proactive” but it fits. It’s what our parents and the Scouts used to tell us…think ahead, be prepared, get your ducks in a row.
For me personally, it’s simply a matter of doing what it takes to be healthy now or pay for it later.
Do you need help to stop smoking? Follow our series to help you get the job done. Here’s the link to Part One. The entire series may be found by clicking on Special Reports on the right side menu.