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Diabetes and your body - the heart

Diabetes and your body - the heart

What does it do?

The heart is the key organ in the circulatory system which includes the heart, arteries and veins. It is a muscular pump, which keeps blood moving around your body, delivering oxygen and other substances to all parts of the body, and carrying away unwanted waste products.

How can diabetes damage it?

Persistent hyperglycaemia (when blood glucose levels are too high) can damage the walls of the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack. Obesity, which is a risk factor for Type 2, also plays a part because fatty deposits are more likely to build up and obstruct the glucose-damaged blood vessels.

Also, people with Type 2 diabetes often have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which also raises the risk of heart failure. In Europe, coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death for people with diabetes.

What you can do to protect yourself

Having diabetes does not mean you are destined to suffer from heart disease. Complications occur as a result of persistent hyperglycaemia, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These can be controlled with diet and lifestyle changes in combination with insulin.

  • Lifestyle changes - giving up smoking, losing weight, eating a healthy diet and doing more exercise can all help to stabilise blood glucose and blood pressure levels and in turn protect your heart and blood vessels.
  • Blood glucose - keeping your blood glucose levels under control can help prevent damage to blood vessels and lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Monitoring your own blood glucose levels is key to self-managing your diabetes and keeping your blood glucose stable. Your doctor or diabetes nurse will teach you how to do this and help you interpret the results. Make sure you attend your clinic appointments and let your healthcare team know if you feel things are not running smoothly. You should also have a blood test for HbA1c at least twice a year.
  • Blood pressure - if your blood pressure is too high, this puts a strain on the vessels and your heart. Have your blood pressure measured and recorded at least once a year, and agree a personal target that is right for you.
  • Cholesterol - have your blood fats (cholesterol) measured every year. Like blood glucose levels and blood pressure, you should have your own target that is realistic and achievable.
  • Know your numbers - keep track of your blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure levels. If you have an iPhone, then one way to keep an eye on your levels is to use our tracker app. Your diabetes healthcare team will help you understand what needs to be measured, how often and what the ideal levels are.