Diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease or a stroke, but there are things you can do to help prevent this from happening. One of our world-leading cardiologists provides advice on how to best manage your condition and keep your heart healthy.

Diabetes can harm your heart

One in ten people over 40 are now living with type 2 diabetes in the UK and this number is expected to increase over the next 10 years, mainly driven by rising levels of obesity. This is because excess body weight is the single greatest risk factor for developing the condition.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or stops reacting to insulin – a hormone that allows your body to use a sugar called glucose that’s found in your food for energy.

Around 90% of those with diabetes in the UK have type 2. There is also a less common form called type 1 diabetes, which occurs when your immune system attacks the cells in the body that make insulin.

It’s estimated that 46% of people living with diabetes don’t know they have it and it is recommended that anyone over 40 should have a regular well-person health check with their GP to rule out the condition as well as others, such as heart disease.

Both types of diabetes, if not well controlled, can result in an increase in the amount of glucose circulating in your blood stream. This can damage the walls of your arteries and make it more likely for fatty deposits to build up on them.

Over time, this build-up of fatty deposits can cause your arteries to narrow. If this occurs in your coronary arteries – which provide oxygen rich blood to your heart, it can lead to a heart attack. If this occurs in the arteries carrying blood to your brain, it can lead to a stroke.

Unfortunately, people with diabetes are twice as likely to have a stroke and five times more likely to have cardiovascular disease (disease of the heart and arteries) than the general population.

Keeping your heart healthy

“If you have diabetes, you can lower your risk of developing heart problems or a stroke by managing your condition effectively. This starts with managing your ABCs.”

–  Dr Shelley Rahman Haley, consultant cardiologist and clinical lead for echocardiography.

Your ABCs are:

A: Get a regular HbA1C test. This checks your average blood sugar levels against what they should be. You should get a check every 3 months when you’re newly diagnosed and then every 6 months once you’re stable.

B: Keep your blood pressure within the target range set by your doctor and get it checked at least once a year. High blood pressure with narrower arteries can make strokes and heart attacks more likely. The target set can be below 140 mmHg but will be tailored to your personal circumstances.

C: Control your cholesterol. In addition to high blood glucose, high cholesterol can contribute to the narrowing of arteries and you should get this checked once per year as well.

s: Stop (or don’t start) smoking. Smoking also increases your risk of heart disease.

“Checking your blood pressure and cholesterol levels with your GP will help them understand your risk of heart disease. Depending on their assessment, they may also recommend further tests on your heart. These can include an ECG to check if it’s beating normally and an echo to check how good it’s pumping blood around your body,” explains Dr Rahman Haley.

“Also, studies have shown that weight loss can reverse type 2 diabetes in some cases, so it is very important to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly – even gentle exercise will help.

“However, you should always see your doctor sooner than your regular check-ups if you experience any symptoms you are unsure about. We’re all here to help keep your heart healthy.”

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