Contributor: Chris Memering, RN, BSN, CDCES
In partnership with
February brings us many images of love and romance and friendship from Valentine’s Day and Galentine’s Day. When you have diabetes, none of those images are more important than your heart. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in five women in the United States die from heart disease. Having diabetes increases that risk. In fact, many cardiologists state that having diabetes is a form of heart disease. And for many of you, this is probably not groundbreaking news. But as we begin Heart Month, I’d like to help remind you of some practical information regarding caring for your heart.
People with diabetes are at risk for various forms of heart disease. Heart failure, where the muscle of the heart has a harder time pumping, is common in those with diabetes. Fatigue, activity intolerance, swelling, really fast weight gain (fluid), or trouble breathing can result from heart failure. Early detection of heart failure (just like most things in your health) makes it easier to manage. So make sure to share any symptoms that you may be having with your healthcare team.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol are also common with diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. These heart-related conditions have to do with the inflammatory process that occurs with insulin resistance, one of the underlying instances in type 2 diabetes. High blood pressure can be managed with lifestyle changes, such as limiting salt intake (careful with the processed food from a can or box), regular exercise, treating sleep apnea (I know those masks are rough), and managing stress. Did you know, wearing your CPAP to treat sleep apnea can also help you manage your glucose levels? It’s a bonus! Less physical stress on the body means less of a stress response by your liver and a lower glucose value.
And finally, the big one, heart attacks. Many of you have seen those classic symptoms of a heart attack in the movies or on TV. A heart attack can indeed cause crushing chest pain like an elephant is sitting on your chest and causing pain that goes down your left arm and makes you look like you just ran a marathon uphill. However, these classic symptoms are usually not the symptoms for women. Check out the infographic from the American Heart Association below. Studies showing what a heart attack feels like were on men who did not have diabetes.
Ever heard of someone saying they had a “silent heart attack”? These are the same symptoms a woman may have when having a heart attack. For women, a heart attack might feel like terrible indigestion that won’t go away, extreme fatigue, or upper back pain. For people with diabetes, especially long term diabetes, you may not have any of these symptoms, but some shortness of breath. Tuning into your body is so important. I saw a woman with diabetes this week who was walking and driving around with what she thought was indigestion or a side-effect of a drug study she just finished. This lasted for three days! She came in a week and a half ago, and yesterday morning had bypass surgery. She’d had a heart attack.
A story like this isn’t meant to scare anyone, but rather to inform and help remind you of the signs and symptoms. Women are at risk for heart disease just as much as men, especially if you have diabetes. What can you do to help prevent or manage heart disease? Many of the things you do to prevent or manage diabetes. Choose foods that give health to your body. Give your machine of a body some activity. Give that same machine a good night’s rest. Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit; your glucose levels will thank you. Manage your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol to the goals set by you and your healthcare team. Don’t be afraid to tell your healthcare provider about any out of the ordinary symptoms you are having. Remember, we are partners in your care and want you to be able to live your healthiest life. #ourhearts are healthier together.
NIH, The Heart Truth, and the US Dept of Health & Human Services have teamed up to help remind us that Social Support helps in heart health too. But I don’t have to tell you that. After all, you are DiabetesSisters warriors!!
Chris Memering has been an RN since 2002. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry and Nursing and has worked as an Inpatient Diabetes Educator for the last 10 years and as a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist for the last 8 years. Chris is a member of Sigma Theta Tau, the nursing honor society. Chris is also a member of the Diabetes Advisory Council for the state of North Carolina, and sits on various advisory boards, as well as serving as a board member on the Board of Directors for ADCES. Chris is currently in Grad School for a Master’s of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Diabetes Nursing at Capella University. Chris’s favorite holiday is Halloween which her whole family enjoys celebrating and is her eldest child’s birthday. When she is not busy with her two kids or doing her own schoolwork, Chris enjoys kicking back and watching movies.