Understanding the link between diabetes and heart disease can save lives

Many of us likely know a family member or friend living with diabetes, or may even have it ourselves. An estimated 3.5 million Canadians have the disease, 90 per cent of whom have type 2 diabetes. But what you may not know is the connection with heart disease.

According to a recent survey, one in two people with diabetes don't realize they can develop heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier than those without diabetes. In fact, heart disease is the most common cause of death for people with type 2 diabetes. If you have a close relative with type 2 diabetes, or are of Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian or African descent, you are at increased risk of developing diabetes.

Heart disease is a general term for a group of conditions that can affect the structure and functions of the heart and blood vessels. The most common form found among people with diabetes is coronary artery disease or hardening of the arteries. This happens when fatty deposits block the arteries that supply the heart with blood.

Having diabetes alone is a major risk factor, and people with diabetes are over three times more likely to be hospitalized for heart health problems. In addition to having diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, smoking and poor nutrition are risk factors for heart disease. People with one or more of these, and diabetes, are at even greater risk of heart disease or stroke.

Fortunately, there are ways to manage diabetes that may reduce the risk of death from heart disease. According to Diabetes Canada, you can do this by controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, managing weight, avoiding smoking, and taking medications to protect your heart.

Recently, advances have been made in the treatment of diabetes to specifically reduce the risk of heart disease. To find out more about your risk and ways to manage it, talk to your doctor and check out www.myheartmatters.ca.