The chances of you having a heart disease or a stroke if you are living with diabetes are at least twice as likely and at a younger age. These chances are only increased the longer that you have diabetes. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is similar in definition to heart disease but is a term that includes stroke and blood vessel disease. Effects of type 2 diabetes goes hand in hand with CVD.
Coronary Artery Disease
A common type of CVD is coronary artery disease (CAD). When you have high blood sugar for a period, it damages your blood vessel walls. CAD is what happens when plaque buildup in the damaged walls of these blood vessels also called the coronary arteries. These arteries supply the heart with all the blood and oxygen that it needs to function. The plaque, made up of blood fats called LDL or “bad” cholesterol, narrows the inside of these arteries; limiting the amount of blood and oxygen that can make it to the heart.
This buildup of bad cholesterol deposits itself in the damaged walls of the coronary arteries and white blood cells follow the cholesterol deposits to try to remove this bad cholesterol. The white blood cells die, and the cholesterol continues to pile on causing a bulge in the blood vessel to form and it hardens. The coronary artery wall is made rigid and less flexible by this hardening, bulgy, buildup which is now fatty plaque. This is a process called atherosclerosis.
Over time, the buildup continues to get in the way until your blood flow slows and causes your blood to clot. Now, your blood flow is not delivering enough oxygen to your heart. Your heart is being strangled, starved of oxygen and nutrients and you may feel it as a symptom called Angina Pectoris. This symptom is when you have chest pains. The decrease blood flow to the brain is what causes strokes. The decrease in blood flow to the heart causes heart attacks.
Are There Any Symptoms of Heart Attack or Stroke?
There are several early warning signs that you should pay attention to when it comes to a heart attack. These signs are important because the earlier that you can spot a heart attack coming, the better off you will be in the face of heart damage. these symptoms include:
- Pain located in your chest, jaw, back, or arm
- Nausea; fatigue or weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Clammy skin
Women may experience lighter cases of these symptoms, especially lighter chest pains if any. if you are living with diabetes, it is possible that you may not experience any of these symptoms at all. If you do experience any of these symptoms and it continues for a time amounting to about 5 minutes, it is important that you call 911 as soon as possible.
The early warning signs of a stroke are very important to spot, and time is of the essence. The quicker you respond to these signs, the less the brain will endure irreversible damage. The symptoms to look out for are:
- Numbness or weakness in the face, arm and/or leg especially if it is only on one side of the body
- Confusion; including having trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Trouble seeing from one or both eyes
- Dizziness: troubles walking or having problems with keeping their balance
- Severe headaches that come suddenly
The signs of a stroke usually depends of a third party relied upon to spot and the person having a stroke may be in denial. Ways that you can check these symptoms is a method that the Center for Disease Control calls F.A.S.T.
If you suspect that a person is having a stroke, ask them to smile and check to see if one side of their Face droops down. Ask them to raise both of their Arms to indicate whether one arm hangs lower than the other one. Next, ask the person to repeat a short phrase and notice if their Speech sounds slurred. Finally, if there are any symptoms shown, it is important to call 911 as soon as possible even if the signs go away. Time is important because a lot of the treatments for a stroke is only effective if treated within the first three hours.
Other Complications of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
The atherosclerosis that narrows arteries, restrict blood flow and causes the artery to become less elastic can also cause high blood pressure (also called hypertension) or can make an existing case of high blood pressure worse.
As well, restricted blood flow in your blood vessels can affect your arms, legs and feet too. It is called peripheral arterial disease (PAD). If PAD is not treated, this could lead to body parts being amputated.
Another type of heart disease or CVD is called Cardiomyopathy which refers to the diseases of your heart muscles. This Cardiomyopathy can lead to abnormal heartbeats called Arrhythmia and can also lead to heart failure.
If you are living with diabetes, then you stand a greater chance at having heart failure than someone who does not have diabetes. Heart failure is when your weakened heart does not pump enough blood to meet the demands of your body.
This heart failure can be caused by several other things. It could be brought upon by a heart attack, high blood pressure, broken valves or Cardiomyopathy which was the diseases in the heart’s muscle.
Reducing Risks of Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) can make it harder for a person to get around. You may need assistance handling day to day activities, may be subject to a lot of medications, and living with CVD can cause depression.
The lifestyle changes that you would have to make to manage type 2 diabetes are the same lifestyle changes that are required in order to lower your risk of CVD:
- Do not smoke or get help to quit smoking as soon as possible. Smoking and diabetes both narrow your blood vessels, putting you at an even greater risk of CVD and high blood pressure. Smoking also increase your chances of having lung disease, leg infections, ulcers, and leg or foot amputation
- Loose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight: being over weight or obese contributes to unhealthy levels of lipids (fats) in your blood, sleep disorders, high blood pressure (hypertension) and leads to cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- Get physically active to help reduce high blood pressure, prevent or manage diabetes, maintain weight loss, and prevents you from dying prematurely
- Plan to eat healthy foods: high plant based diet with high fiber and low saturated fats can reduce risks of heart disease (CVD)
- Do not drink a lot of alcohol. Excessive alcohol plays a role in developing high blood pressure, the heart muscle disease cardiomyopathy, stroke and heart failure
- Get enough sleep. A poor quality of sleep may cause elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis which is the process by which plaque clogs the heart’s arteries; the preset for heart attacks and strokes. It also increases the risk of having type 2 diabetes; increasing insulin resistance and decreasing the cells tolerance to absorbing blood sugars. The Center for Disease Control recommend 7 hours of quality sleep if you are between the ages of 18 and 65 years old.
- Manage to reduce daily stress. Stress, over time can raise your blood pressure and your blood sugar levels. Ways to combat stress includes talking to friends and family, listening to your favorite music, gardening, and yoga
Moreover, you stand a greater chance of having a CVD if you are a male regardless of whether you have diabetes or not. You are at twice the risk of having a heart disease if someone in your family history has had a heart attack before the age of 50 years old.
Also, note that as a part of keeping your diabetes and CVD `under control, you must keep your blood sugar under regular control as well as your cholesterol and blood pressure.
To bring your cholesterol to desired levels, you must lower your LDL or “bad” cholesterol that increase the risks of CVD and increase your HDL or “good” cholesterol that lowers the risk of CVD. You do this by eating less fats and trans-fats in your diet and by eating more plant-based foods. It also helps to couple your eating habits with more physical activity.
High blood pressure, or when your heart must work harder to pump blood not only causes damage to your blood vessels, strains your heart, and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke but it also causes trouble for your eyes like blurred vision or even blindness and causes kidney problems to kidney failure and dialysis. To counter high blood pressure, you have to manage stress, do not drink or smoke, eat less salt, eat healthier foods and become more physically active.
 American Heart Association. (2022). Heart Attack, Stroke and Cardiac Arrest Symptoms. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/about-us/heart-attack-and-stroke-symptoms  Cardiovascular Disease. (1995 – 2022). American Diabetes Association. https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/cardiovascular-disease  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 7). Diabetes and Your Heart. Diabetes. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-and-heart.html#:~:text=Over%20time%2C%20high%20blood%20sugar,and%20can%20damage%20artery%20walls  Dansinger, M.D., M. (2021, December 8). Heart Disease and Diabetes. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/heart-blood-disease  The British Diabetic Association. (n.d.). Diabetes And Heart Disease. Diabetes UK. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications/cardiovascular_disease