How to Protect Your Heart Health If You Have Type 2 Diabetes

Uncontrolled diabetes can increase the risk of heart problems.

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are many risk factors for heart disease, but one that often gets overlooked is diabetes. If not under control, diabetes can have a negative impact on cardiovascular health and increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.

The link between diabetes and heart disease may be one reason why Black Americans have one of the highest mortality rates from heart disease, according to the CDC. Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to have diabetes, and to have it at younger ages.

How Diabetes Affects Heart Health

High levels of blood sugar can damage other parts of the body over time, leading to diabetes complications. For example, chronic high blood sugar can damage the walls of blood vessels, causing them to narrow. Narrowed arteries reduce blood flow and may not function as well, which may lead to higher blood pressure.

Good diabetes management can reduce this risk. By controlling your blood sugar levels, you may reduce the risk of damage to the blood vessels (and other parts of the body).

Tips for a Healthy Heart

Visit Your Doctor Regularly

If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s important to build a good relationship with your doctor. Find a doctor you can trust who is able to help you navigate your treatment journey. If you don’t have health insurance, talk to a social worker for advice affording your health care.

Visiting with your doctor regularly is crucial for:

  • Monitoring your health numbers, such as your A1C and your blood pressure
  • Getting accurate and relevant information
  • Learning lifestyle changes that can help manage your diabetes
  • Finding the treatment regimen that works for you
  • Catching complications or concerning trends early

Make Lifestyle Changes

The next thing to do to protect your heart health is to find the lifestyle changes that work for you. A healthy lifestyle for type 2 diabetes can help manage your blood sugar, as well as protect your overall heart health. These habits include:

  • Eating a healthy diet that focuses on whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds
  • Exercising regularly
  • Finding a healthy weight
  • Quitting or cutting back on smoking
  • Avoiding or limiting alcohol
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Managing stress

Take Medications If Necessary

Some people are able to manage their diabetes with lifestyle changes alone. However, other people may need oral medicines or insulin injections to control their blood sugar. If your doctor recommends medications, it’s important to take them as prescribed. Medications to treat diabetes may reduce your risk of complications, including heart disease.

Find Support

Making lifestyle changes and sticking to a treatment regimen can be challenging. It may be also be expensive. You may not have a gym nearby where you can exercise regularly, or even a grocery store that offers fresh veggies. That’s why it may help to have a support system in place.

Find a buddy who can go on walks with you on a regular basis. Invite a friend over to try out new recipes with you. Call up your friends for advice when you’re feeling discouraged or frustrated. Keep in mind that diabetes and heart disease are both quite common in the United States, so you may have friends, neighbors, and family members who are going through a similar situation.

“The patients I know who've done the best [at treating their diabetes] don't find it easy, but they ask for help and they have support,” says David Anstey, MD, cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Their family members are involved. They have people checking in on them, asking what their blood sugar level has been. Their family members celebrate with them together.”