Make the Link to Better Heart Health by Martha Funnell, MS, RN, CDE
The leading cause of death among people with diabetes is heart disease. We have known for a long time that keeping blood glucose and blood pressure levels close to normal lowers the risk of complications in the small blood vessels of the eyes and kidneys. Until recently, nobody knew if high blood glucose levels increase a person’s risk of heart disease.
The most recent studies in this area show that paying close attention to blood glucose levels cuts your risk of heart attacks and strokes in half! So now we know that keeping your blood glucose levels close to normal has a big impact on keeping your large blood vessels healthy as well.
What does this mean to you?
Experts recommend people with diabetes try to keep their A1C level less than 7%. In order to have your A1C at this level, your blood glucose readings before meals need to be between 90 and 130 mg/dL, and your readings two hours after meals need to be less than 180. Sadly, it is estimated that fewer than half of all Americans with diabetes reach these levels.
But blood glucose is not the whole story. In addition to blood glucose, you need to pay attention to your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s estimated that almost 3 out of 4 of adults with diabetes also have high blood pressure and most have cholesterol levels that put them at high risk for heart disease.
What can you do to lower your risk?
The first step is to know your ABCs. Your diabetes ABCs are A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol. If you don’t know these numbers, do not hesitate to ask your health care provider. This is your information and you need to know what it means.
If any of your ABCs are above the recommended levels, ask your provider to work with you to lower them. It may not be easy, and it may take time. But every step you take to lower your risk is a step in the right direction.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS THAT MAKE IMPROVING YOUR ABCs AS EASY AS 123
– Make wise food choices. You already know that certain foods affect your blood glucose. Foods high in saturated and trans fats can raise your bad cholesterol level (LDL). Foods high in salt can raise your blood pressure level. Ask for a referral to a dietitian if you want help learning how to make wise food choices.
– Do some physical activity every day. Physical activity helps all of the ABCs. Activity lowers your blood glucose level and your blood pressure. Being active also helps raise your good cholesterol (HDL). Walking 10 minutes three times a day often is enough to help start to improve these levels.
– Take your medicines regularly. Medicines are powerful allies for improving your ABCs. But you need to take them every day at the right time in order to get the most out of them. If you often forget to take your medicines, try creating some reminders for times you commonly miss.
– Stop smoking. Smoking is especially harmful for people with diabetes, because they already are at risk for heart disease and stroke. Ask your provider for medicines or programs to help you quit. Keep trying until you succeed.
– Ask your health care provider about taking aspirin. An aspirin a day helps to lower your risk for heart disease.
Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD