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Health & Medical

Diabetes: Let’s get to the heart of the matter

Disease can be deadly – but not always for the reason you might think

Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center
Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) wants to educate everyone about the link between diabetes and heart disease.

Diabetes has many serious complications, including the potential loss of eyesight and limbs. This is because over time, high blood glucose levels damage nerves and blood vessels. Smaller blood vessels and nerves such as those around your eyes and your fingers and toes tend to be affected first, hence diabetic neuropathy, loss of circulation in the extremities, and loss of vision.

But many, if not most, people who have diabetes do not die from diabetic complications. They die from heart disease. In fact, adults with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes. This is because high blood glucose also damages the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart and those leading to your brain.

There are three types of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition in which the body cannot produce insulin and it is the rarest form. It used to be called juvenile onset diabetes because most people with type 1 are diagnosed as children.

Gestational diabetes occurs in some women during pregnancy and it increases the risk that the mother and the child may be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later in life.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form and it develops over time, usually as a result of a pattern of overeating and too little physical activity. Type 2 diabetes can be avoided by staying at a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough exercise. Even if you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes you can manage to lower your risk of heart disease or stroke. Here is some advice from the NIDDK:

• Stop smoking or using other tobacco products. These also damage your blood vessels, adding insult to injury.

• Manage your A1C (a blood test for Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes), blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

• Develop or maintain healthy lifestyle habits – be more physically active and learn ways to manage your stress.

• Take medicines as prescribed by your doctor.

There is some evidence that Type 2 diabetes can be reversed by adopting healthier habits, such as reducing calories, increasing activity, and managing stress. Whether you can do so may depend on how long you’ve had the condition, but those activities can help to manage diabetes and improve quality of life in any person.

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