Like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure commonly go together. If you have both, you are at much greater risk of suffering a heart attack, especially if you are a woman. However, no matter whether you are a male or female, you are at increased risk, and there are some steps you should take to minimize it.
Diabetics are at increased risk of being unaware of an important warning sign of a heart attack: chest pain. Diabetes causes a type of nerve damage called neuropathy, which can interfere with your brain's normal perception of pain. Because of this, you may perceive pain in your chest that is unrelated to heart disease. On the other hand, you may not feel any pain at all when in fact your body is trying to signal you that a heart attack is imminent. People with diabetes really cannot trust their own instincts.
To keep on top of your condition, your cardiologist should monitor you closely and have you undergo cardiac tests every year so as to evaluate the extent of your heart disease. Tests such as exercise stress tests are more difficult to administer in diabetics because of fluctuations in blood sugar levels, so be certain your test is done in a hospital or laboratory accustomed to testing diabetics.
If you have both diabetes and heart disease, you may find yourself seeing more than one doctor, such as a primary care physician (or internist or family doctor), and a cardiologist. Make sure that the doctor you see is aware that you have both diabetes and heart disease. Some cardiovascular medications and cholesterol-lowering medications can interfere with blood sugar control. Be aware of such potential medication interactions.
If you smoke, you must quit. Diabetics are more prone to 'peripheral vascular disease,' a narrowing of the arteries which can lead to a heart attack. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor that induces this type of vascular narrowing. So, smoking is particularly deadly for diabetics.
Studies have shown that diabetics who undertake a daily programme of thirty to forty minutes of aerobic exercise significantly reduce their risk of a heart attack. The advantages of exercise are particularly important if, like many heart disease patients, you have this dangerous trio — heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Exercise can help control your blood sugar, lower your blood pressure, and, if you are obese, help lose your weight. Even a modest weight loss, such as twenty or thirty pounds, can lower blood pressure and improve the health of someone who is very heavy, say fifty to one hundred pounds overweight or even more.
But it is absolutely essential that you be evaluated before beginning any type of exercise programme. This is because exercise affects your blood sugar level. Also, as a diabetic starting to exercise, you might miss the important sign of chest pain. So ask your doctor if an exercise stress test is in order. These extra precautions may seem like a lot of trouble. But, when it comes to diabetes, the best defense is good offense. Knowledge is power. Having the facts on your side gives you additional assurance that you will lead a long, active life.
What can you do:
- Discuss with your doctor the best dietary plan to keep your blood sugar under control. Consider consulting a nutritionist.
- See your doctor for regular check-ups and make certain you notify your doctor of any adverse changes in your health.
- Be sure to monitor your blood sugar regularly. Home blood sugar monitoring has become accurate because of newer technology. For a good estimate of your overall control, a laboratory test called the hemoglobin A-1C has become widely available.