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The link between diabetes and heart disease is undeniable – and it’s a correlation that’s been researched for decades leading back to the 1948 Framingham Heart Study. This study was the first to identify many of the risk factors that today allow us to prevent heart disease – including diabetes.
Taking control of your diabetes is so important because without proper management, high blood glucose levels can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system. From damaging blood vessels to causing high blood pressure and cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes is a recipe for long-term heart problems.
High levels of glucose (otherwise known as your A1c) in the blood can damage your cardiovascular system in numerous ways. First, it can decrease the elasticity of the blood vessels and cause them to narrow, which inhibits blood flow.
Over time, the resulting supply of blood and oxygen can lead to high blood pressure and damage to the blood vessels. In fact, approximately 75 percent of diabetics suffer from high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of heart disease. When blood vessels are damaged, complications such as heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease can occur.
“Diabetes is a very strong risk factor for the development of heart disease including coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure,” explains Dr. Jimmy Locklear, WakeMed Heart & Vascular. “Controlling diabetes is one of the best ways to reduce these complications and while lifestyle changes aren’t easy to make, they remain the most important thing we can do to prevent heart disease and other complications.”
Many people diagnosed with diabetes feel like they have no control over the disease. While diabetes isn’t reversible, the great news is that it can be managed and, in many cases, proper management can prevent many of the complications that make a diabetes diagnosis so scary.
The WakeMed Adult Diabetes Management Program offers the following advice for patients who are empowered to get on the track to better health.
#1 – Get Educated.
Particularly for newly-diagnosed patients, there is an incredible amount of information to learn and many don’t know where to start. The American Diabetes Association is a great place for self-starters, but many prefer in-person training.
WakeMed’s Adult Diabetes Management Program offers outpatient training programs, nutritional counseling and classes throughout the year to help you take control of your health. To learn more, call (919) 350-7292.
#2 – Stay Informed. Be Your Own Advocate!
Science is always changing, so be sure to ask your doctor about new treatments, medications, recommendations, guidelines and research. Subscribe to the American Diabetes Association’s
blog, or if you’re a tad more scientific – you can even read the ADA’s clinical journal, Clinical Diabetes. Learn more at www.diabetes.org/blog or clinical.diabetesjournals.org.
#3 – Join a Support Group.
Whether you prefer online or in person, you can get great support from others managing a similar diagnosis. The American Diabetes Association offers an online support community and there are countless Facebook groups where you can share tips, strategies, ideas and recipes. If you prefer a more personal connection, WakeMed offers a monthly Diabetes Support Group in Cary.
#4 – Partner with Your Physician.
Take an active role in your care, which means staying in regular contact with your physician, keeping them apprised of how you’re feeling or if you notice any changes in how you feel or your glucose levels. If your physician has prescribed medications, take them as recommended. Finally, it’s important to work with your physician to set and work toward realistic lifestyle goals.
“Too often, patients will agree to my advice to get 150 minutes of exercise a week, knowing full well that it’s just not something they can adhere to right away,” explains Dr. Theresa Amerson, WakeMed Primary Care. “When patients are honest and partner with us to develop realistic lifestyle goals, we often see greater success. Otherwise, when patients worry they’ll be reprimanded or judged by their physicians for not following the plan of care, they’re more likely to stop coming to see us until they’re in a serious situation. The best approach to diabetes management is a true partnership between the patient and physician.”
#5 – Focus on Lifestyle.
This can feel overwhelming, but it really is one of the best ways to keep diabetes under control. The American Diabetes Association recommends eating a diet that’s rich in whole, unprocessed foods and non-starchy vegetables, while limiting added sugar and refined grains. Low-carb, vegetarian and Mediterranean diets have shown the greatest effect in helping patients manage A1c.
Losing weight can also have a significant impact on diabetes – just a 5-10% reduction in body weight can help improve your blood sugar. Finally, exercise can actually slow the progression of diabetes for patients on a consistent regimen.
Coleen Hanson Smith is a freelance healthcare writer with 20 years of editorial, PR and marketing experience. She’s passionate about doing work that matters. As such, Coleen’s specialty areas are aligned with her personal passions which include: healthcare/hospital/physician practice/health & wellness; technology/B2B; parenting; and philanthropy/non-profit.
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