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Learning About Diabetes and Coronary Artery Disease

How are diabetes and heart disease connected?

Many people think diabetes and heart disease go hand in hand. But having diabetes doesn't have to mean that you are going to have a heart attack someday. Healthy living can help prevent many of the problems that come with both diabetes and heart disease.

For some people, diabetes can cause problems in your body that may lead to heart disease. Diabetes can make the problems of heart disease worse. Experts do not fully understand how diabetes affects the heart. Many things can lead to heart disease, including high blood sugar, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. But lifestyle and genetics may also affect a person's risk.

But here's the good news: The good things you're doing to stay healthy with diabetes—eating healthy foods, quitting smoking, getting exercise and more—are also helping your heart.

What increases your risk for heart disease?

When you have diabetes, your risk for heart disease is even higher if you have:

  • High blood pressure, which pushes blood through the arteries with too much force. Over time, this damages the walls of the arteries.
  • High cholesterol, which causes the buildup of a kind of fat inside the blood vessel walls. This buildup can lower blood flow to the heart muscle and raise your risk for having a heart attack.
  • Kidney damage, which shares many of the risk factors for heart disease (such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol).

How can you keep your heart healthy when you have diabetes?

Managing your diabetes and keeping your heart healthy are two sides of the same coin. Here are some things you can do.

  • Test your blood sugar levels and get your diabetes tests on schedule. Try to keep your numbers within your target range.
  • Keep track of your blood pressure. Your doctor will give you a goal that's right for you. If your blood pressure is high, your treatment may also include medicine. Changes in your lifestyle, such as staying at a healthy weight, may also help you lower your blood pressure.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and low-fat or non-fat dairy foods. Limit sodium, alcohol, and sweets.
  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for at least 2½ hours a week.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make diabetes and heart disease worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Your doctor may talk with you about taking medicines for your heart. For example, your doctor may suggest taking a statin or daily aspirin.

Where can you learn more?

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