Did you know that type 2 diabetes is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke? In fact, adults with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people without diabetes, even if the diabetes is well managed.
And heart disease and stroke may put you at higher risk of complications if you get COVID-19. There are basic steps anyone can take to reduce their risk of getting the virus. Stay vigilant. If you do get COVID-19, you might experience more severe symptoms or serious complications.
Overall, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risks of heart disease and stroke.
First, talk to your health care provider to better understand your condition and what you can do to stay healthy. With COVID-19, many health care providers are willing to communicate via phone, email or a secure patient portal.
Diabetes is more complicated than most chronic diseases, so it’s important to be proactive and work with your health care team to learn all you can about how to manage it, said Robert Eckel, M.D., professor emeritus at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and former president of the American Heart Association.
“We want patients to have a good understanding of the disease and what steps we’re going to take with lifestyle and medications,” said Eckel, who also serves as president of medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association®.
Reducing your risk starts with making sure your diabetes is well managed. Work with your health care team to set goals that can get your health on track.
When unmanaged, diabetes damages blood vessels over time. Excess blood sugar (also called blood glucose) makes the vessels stiff and the vessels can also fill with a fatty substance called plaque that can cause blockages.
Many patients with diabetes also have other conditions—including extra weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides— that increase the risk for heart disease. Work with your health care team to manage those factors. You may need a combination of medication and lifestyle changes.
Stay in contact with your health care team about your progress, and make sure you don’t miss any appointments. Be prepared with questions. Talk about steps you can take before your next appointment and how to track your progress.
Many patients with diabetes may need to take one or more medications to manage their diabetes. Make sure you take all your medications as prescribed. If you are running into challenges or if the side effects are difficult to manage, talk with your doctor about alternatives.
If you use tobacco, stop. Stick to a heart-healthy diet that limits sodium and sugar and focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and healthy fats.
Get your heart rate up. Aim for at least 150 minutes each week of moderate aerobic activity like a brisk walk.
With an increased risk for stroke, it’s important that you and those around you recognize the common symptoms of a stroke. F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember that if your face is drooping or you experience arm weakness or speech difficulty, it’s time to call 911 and get immediate medical attention.
Most of all, stay positive. There are millions of people with diabetes leading healthy lives and you can be one of them.
Learn more about the link between diabetes and heart disease and stroke at KnowDiabetesByHeart.org.