There is a link between diabetes and heart disease, and the results can be deadly.
So, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have partnered to both educate and motivate people with type 2 diabetes to minimize their risk for cardiovascular disease.
The multi-year awareness and education initiative is called Know Diabetes by Heart.
According to the AHA, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those without diabetes.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that more than 100 million people in the United States have diabetes or prediabetes.
However, in a recent survey of people with type 2 diabetes aged 45 and older, conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of the AHA, only about half were aware of the risk.
“The public health impact and growing threat of diabetes and cardiovascular disease are too significant for any one organization to tackle alone,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association in a press release.
“Our collaboration with the American Diabetes Association and industry supporters is crucial for developing meaningful solutions and offering practical tools and information that can help those living with type 2 diabetes find inspiration and take action toward improving their health and decreasing their risk of heart disease,” Brown added.
Why diabetes increases CVD risk
The connection between type 2 diabetes and heart disease begins with high glucose (blood sugar) levels.
Excessive glucose levels will damage your arteries over time, causing fatty material to build up on the inside, hardening them. This is a condition called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis will eventually block blood flow to the heart or brain, causing a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke.
The risk is even higher if you already have a family history of heart disease.
Major risk factors for this condition are obesity, a family history of diabetes, and insufficient physical activity. The odds of developing type 2 diabetes also increase with age.
Although diet and medication can keep glucose under control, the increased risk remains. This is because people with diabetes, especially type 2, tend to have other conditions that also raise their cardiovascular risks.
“The heart and blood vessels, stomach, nerves … as well as muscle and reproductive systems are all at risk with diabetes,” Joy Cornthwaite, RD, diabetes educator at UTHealth/UT Physicians in Houston, Texas, told Healthline.
Not just increased heart disease risk
The ADA and AHA conducted focus groups in September that found many people with type 2 diabetes are distressed by the challenge of managing their condition.
“As someone living with type 2 diabetes, I empathize with the denial, worry, fear and even frustration that can accompany a diabetes diagnosis and the daily management of the disease,” said Tracey D. Brown, chief executive officer of the ADA, in a press release.
The focus group members also reported feeling hopeless, which made them less likely to do what’s needed to reduce the risk of long-term complications.
“Serious complications include loss of vision, kidney disease, amputations, and delayed stomach emptying,” Cornthwaite explained.
Those over age 60 are at particular risk. More than 25 percent of Americans 65 years of age or older live with diabetes.
A critical issue for seniors with diabetes is that the symptoms are easily missed.
Typical symptoms, such as frequent urination and feeling thirsty all the time, aren’t as obvious in older adults.
Other symptoms of type 2 diabetes, such as fatigue and lethargy, can be mistaken as being part of the normal aging process.
As a result, older people with diabetes can seem relatively free of symptoms and may remain undiagnosed until significant health damage has occurred.
“Even the early stages of these complications can significantly reduce quality of life. Worse, older adults on fixed incomes may lack the resources to access the specialized care needed for advanced diabetes-related complications,” said Cornthwaite.
The heart of the initiative
The initiative is intended to help people with type 2 diabetes take practical steps that will improve their health and reduce their risk of stroke and heart disease.
By leveraging the latest evidence-based guidelines, the initiative will also support healthcare providers and includes quality improvement efforts across hospitals, clinics, and medical practices caring for people with type 2 diabetes.
According to Cornthwaite, it’s not enough for medical professionals to say “exercise, eat a healthy diet, and take your medications.”
She explained that people living with diabetes need to know the reasons behind what they’re being told to do. That can lead to better self-care.
“Another important consideration is to quit smoking. Smoking damages the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease,” said Cornthwaite.
Take the quiz
People with type 2 diabetes can take a quiz at KnowDiabetesbyHeart.org to better understand their level of risk for heart disease and stroke.
You can also download a discussion guide with the top three questions you should ask your doctor and some conversation starters to try at your next appointment.
More events, resources, and campaign tools regarding the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease will be revealed this year.
While it’s important that people living with diabetes understand how it can damage their arteries and the importance of managing their condition, prevention is just as critical.
Cornthwaite said that healthy eating habits and physical activity are essential to preventing type 2 diabetes.
“In a nutshell, lose weight, move more, eat better and you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes,” she said.
The bottom line
Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of heart disease.
While diet and medication can keep glucose under control, the risk remains.
The American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association have partnered to offer practical tools and information that can help those living with type 2 diabetes take action to improve their health and reduce their risk of heart disease.
The awareness and education initiative is called Know Diabetes by Heart.