People with diabetes are nearly twice as likely as people without diabetes to die from heart disease or stroke. They also tend to develop heart disease earlier in life.

In recognition of American Heart Month in February, Lake Regional Health System is providing education to Lake Sun readers on various heart health topics.

If you have diabetes, you need to know how the disease affects your heart. 

“Many people with diabetes aren’t aware that they have an increased risk of heart disease,” said Kristi Brown, R.N., MSN, CDE, Lake Regional certified diabetes educator. “If you have diabetes, being aware of your increased risk can help you protect your heart.”

What is the link?

People with diabetes are nearly twice as likely as people without diabetes to die from heart disease or stroke. They also tend to develop heart disease earlier in life. 

Diabetes impacts heart health in several ways. One danger is high blood glucose, also called blood sugar. High blood glucose can damage blood vessels, as well as the nerves that control blood vessels and the heart. 

Another cause for concern is that people who have diabetes tend also to have other risk factors that increase the chances of heart disease. For example, people with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  

How can I protect my heart?

The better you manage your diabetes, the better off your heart will be. The National Institutes of Health recommends managing your “Diabetes ABCs” to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy.

A is for the A1C test, which shows your average blood glucose level for the previous three months. It’s different from the blood glucose checks that you do every day. The higher your A1C number, the higher your blood glucose levels have been during the past three months.

B is for blood pressure. If your blood pressure gets too high, it makes your heart work too hard. High blood pressure can cause a heart attack or stroke and damage your kidneys and eyes.

C is for cholesterol. You have two kinds of cholesterol in your blood: LDL and HDL. LDL or “bad” cholesterol can build up and clog your blood vessels. Too much bad cholesterol can cause a heart attack or stroke. HDL or “good” cholesterol helps remove the “bad” cholesterol from your blood vessels. 

S is for stop smoking. Not smoking is especially important for people with diabetes because both smoking and diabetes narrow blood vessels, so your heart has to work harder.

Lifestyle changes — such as eating healthier, exercising more and quitting smoking — will help you manage these risk factors. Your doctor also may prescribe medicines to help.

Where can I find support?

If you’ve never gone through a diabetes education program, ask your doctor to order it for you. Diabetes education is covered by Medicare and many health insurance plans.

“Lake Regional’s program includes six hours of group education plus one individual session,” Brown said. “In the group sessions, participants learn from an instructor, plus they have the opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other. In the one-on-one session, the diabetes educator customizes a management plan to patients’ individual needs and goals.” 

Another good resource is Lake Regional’s Chronic Care Management program. It connects participants with a nurse case manager who provides extra one-on-one support to ensure patients receive the support and care they need to successfully manage their conditions. To be eligible, patients must have at least two chronic conditions, be enrolled in Medicare and have a Lake Regional primary care provider. 

To learn more about Chronic Care Management, call Jill Wilke, Lake Regional’s director of Palliative Care, Home Health and Hospice, at 573-302-2281. To learn more about diabetes education, call Brown at 573-302-2745.