Heart Health Basics

RFS - heart beatPeople with diabetes are more likely to suffer from heart and cardiovascular disease than the average person. People with diabetes are 4 – 6 times more likely to suffer a heart attack. Keeping your heart healthy should be a regular part of your diabetes self-care.

Your heart and blood vessels make up your cardiovascular system. Your heart is just a big muscle that pumps blood through your body. Your heart pumps blood carrying oxygen to large blood vessels, called arteries, and small blood vessels, called capillaries. Other blood vessels, called veins, carry blood back to the heart.

Several things, including having diabetes, can make your blood cholesterol level too high. Cholesterol is a substance that is made by the body and used for many important functions. It is also found in some food derived from animals. When cholesterol is too high, the insides of large blood vessels become narrowed, even clogged. This problem is called atherosclerosis.

Narrowed and clogged blood vessels make it harder for enough blood to get to all parts of your body. This can cause problems.

What can happen when blood vessels are clogged?

Chest pain, also called angina. When you have angina, you feel pain in your chest, arms, shoulders, or back. You may feel the pain more when your heart beats faster, such as when you exercise. The pain may go away when you rest. You also may feel very weak and sweaty. If you do not get treatment, chest pain may happen more often. If diabetes has damaged the heart nerves, you may not feel the chest pain.

Heart attack. A heart attack happens when a blood vessel in or near the heart becomes blocked. Not enough blood can get to that part of the heart muscle. That area of the heart muscle stops working, so the heart is weaker. During a heart attack, you may have chest pain along with nausea, indigestion, extreme weakness, and sweating.

What are the warning signs of a heart attack?

You may have one or more of the following warning signs:

  •  chest pain or discomfort
  • pain or discomfort in your arms, back, jaw, or neck
  • indigestion or stomach pain
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • nausea or vomiting
  • light-headedness

Or, you may have no warning signs at all. Or they may come and go.

How can clogged blood vessels hurt my legs and feet?

Peripheral vascular disease can happen when the openings in your blood vessels become narrow and not enough blood gets to your legs and feet. You may feel pain in your buttocks, the back of your legs, or your thighs when you stand, walk, or exercise.

What can I do to prevent or control peripheral vascular disease?

  • Don’t smoke
  • Keep blood pressure under control
  • Keep blood fats close to normal
  • Exercise
  • You also may need surgery to treat this problem

What can I do to prevent heart disease and stroke?

Keep your blood glucose under control. You can see if it is under control by having an A1C test at four times a year. The A1C test tells you your average blood glucose for the past 2 to 3 months. The target for most people is below 7.

Keep your blood pressure under control. Have it checked at every doctor visit. The target for most people is below 130/80.

Keep your cholesterol under control. Have it checked at least once a year. The targets for most people are:

  • LDL (bad) cholesterol: below 100
  • HDL (good) cholesterol: above 40 in men and above 50 in women
  • Triglycerides (another type of fat in the blood): below 150

Choose an activity you like and stay active. Make physical activity a part of your daily routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Check with your doctor to learn what activities are best for you. Take a half-hour walk every day. Or walk for 10 minutes after each meal. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the far end of the lot.

Make sure that the foods you eat are heart-healthy. Include foods high in fiber, such as oat bran, oatmeal, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Cut back on foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol, such as meats, butter, dairy products with fat, eggs, shortening, lard, and foods with palm oil or coconut oil.

Lose weight if you need to. If you are overweight, try to exercise most days of the week. See a registered dietitian for help in planning meals and lowering the fat and calorie content of your diet to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

If you smoke, quit. Your doctor can tell you about ways to help you quit smoking.

Ask your doctor whether you should take an aspirin every day. Studies have shown that taking a low dose of aspirin every day can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Take your medicines as directed.

For more information on diabetes and heart health, diabetes and strokes or peripheral arterial disease.