How Diabetes Can Lead to Heart Failure: An Illustrative Guide
Diabetes is considered a lifestyle disease, making it easy to avoid if a person looks after their health. And while this is more common in adults approaching middle age, the youth are not spared. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34.2 million people of all ages had diabetes in 2018; of this, 7.3 million adults aged 18 years and older were not aware of having the disease.
Awareness of the nature of diabetes plays a vital role in managing it, therefore reducing the risk of heart disease. This infographic will illustrate how diabetes affects the heart and how it eventually leads to heart failure if not addressed as soon as possible.
Factors That Contribute to Heart Failure1
- Blood sugar level
One of the contributing factors for heart failure is hyperglycemia or high blood sugar. Too much sugar in the blood can cause contractions in the vessels that supply blood to the heart. Eventually, this can lead to heart complications.
- Blood pressure
High blood pressure may be a precursor for heart disease. It can damage the arteries by making them less elastic. In turn, this decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, leading to heart failure.
- Low-density cholesterol (bad cholesterol)
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol makes up most of your body’s fat. With elevated levels of LDL, deposits can accumulate in your blood vessels, leading to plaque buildup, blocking blood flow in the heart. In some cases, they suddenly rupture and form a clot that causes a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.
Triglycerides are fats that give you energy. Your body creates triglycerides, but you also get them from the food you eat. High levels of triglyceride may lead to the thickening of the artery walls, which increases the risk of heart problems.
From Diabetes to Heart Failure2
So, how does diabetes affect the heart? Here’s the science behind it:
- A person with diabetes has elevated blood glucose levels
Someone with diabetes has elevated blood glucose levels. The normal blood sugar levels range between 72–99 mg/dL when fasting and can reach 140 mg/dL two hours after eating. For diabetes patients, their blood sugar levels spike to over 130 mg/dL before a meal and 180 mg/dL after eating.
- High blood sugar levels boost the likelihood of obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
Too much sugar in the blood can lead to chronic health conditions, including obesity, which, in turn, can cause high blood pressure and result in the accumulation of fat in the blood. When this happens, blockages develop in the arteries, preventing oxygen from being carried into the heart.
- High blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels and nerves in the heart
When the arterial walls get inflamed due to too much sugar in the blood, the heart is compromised. Since the body can’t use the sugar properly, the excess sticks to the red blood cells. This build-up then blocks and damages the vessels and nerves carrying blood to and from the heart, starving it of oxygen and nutrients.
- Diabetes eventually leads to cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, heart attack, and heart failure
As blood vessels in the heart are damaged, further complications are triggered. This is why people with diabetes are more likely to contract associated conditions like heart failure, which happens when cardiac muscles fail to pump blood. They’re also at higher risk of stroke and heart attack due to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Ways to Lower the Risk of Heart Failure3
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk for heart failure. Here are some of them:
Nicotine in tobacco reduces the amount of oxygen the heart receives, making the blood vessels work harder. As a result, a blood clot may develop and lead to heart failure. Only 20 minutes after quitting, your blood pressure will drop closer to normal levels. In two to three weeks, your blood flow will start getting better.
Luckily, most of the damage caused by smoking is reversible. Quitting starts with the commitment to stop the habit, and it helps to understand what triggers you to smoke. One way of doing this is by keeping a record of why and when you smoke and what you’re doing when you smoke. This will guide you in making gradual adjustments.
Let your friends and family know that you are quitting and ask for their support. You may also join a support group, which can help strengthen your determination to break the habit.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight increases your chances of developing heart disease. It’s long been established that excess weight can lead to high blood pressure or diabetes. Down the road, this can result in heart failure.
One way to see if your weight is healthy is to know your body mass index (BMI), which measures your body fat based on your height and weight. A BMI of 25 or higher equates to being overweight and is generally associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Waist circumference can also indicate how much abdominal fat you have. According to experts, a waist measurement of 35 inches or greater for women and 40 inches or greater for men puts them at risk of heart disease. So, reducing your weight by just 3% to 5% can be beneficial as it decreases certain fats in your blood.
Follow a healthy eating plan
A proper diet can help protect your heart by improving your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Health specialists note that a heart-healthy meal plan includes fruits and vegetables, lean fish and meat, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, and legumes.
They also recommend limiting your intake of sugar, salt, alcohol, processed carbohydrates (such as pizza, white rice, cereals, and pastries), saturated fat (found in full-fat dairy products and red meat), and trans-fat (contained in chips, fast food, and baked goods).
Stay physically active
Regular physical activity can help control weight; thus, lowering the risk of heart disease. It also decreases your chances of developing other conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes that may put a strain on your heart.
You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, and this includes walking. Or you can go for 75 minutes of vigorous weekly activity like running. Alternatively, activities that require moving around, like gardening or housekeeping, are also beneficial for the heart.
Control blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure
Controlling your “ABCs”—A1c (blood sugar), blood pressure, and cholesterol—goes a long way in preventing heart problems. For people with diabetes, monitoring blood sugar levels is a must to ensure they’re within the normal range.
Meanwhile, your blood pressure goal should be below 140/80. Make sure to get it checked at least four times a year or every time you go in for a diabetes checkup. Have a blood pressure monitor at home so you can track it more often.
For your cholesterol levels, have them checked at least once a year. For people under 40 years old with diabetes, the ideal LDL is below 100. HDL (“good” cholesterol) should be above 50 for women or above 40 for men. Lastly, your triglycerides should be lower than 150.
Take the right medications as prescribed by your doctor
It’s crucial that you take your medications exactly as directed by your doctor. This is important in treating and regulating your current health complications and preventing associated diseases from developing.
It helps to keep a medicine calendar so you can follow a set schedule. Each time you take a dose, mark the chart to establish familiarity with your medication program. You can also try incorporating your medications into a routine. This way, it will be easier for you to remember taking your pills.
Prevent Heart Failure with Proper Diabetes Management
Diabetes and heart disease often go hand in hand. Despite the risk, people with diabetes can prevent heart complications with proper diabetes management. Understanding how diabetes leads to heart failure can reduce your chances of contracting cardiovascular diseases.
Take the assessment test now to check if you exhibit early signs of heart problems. This will help you better manage your diabetes and address the situation before it progresses. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Disclaimer: The information provided is for information purposes only and is not meant to be substituted for the advice given by a registered medical practitioner. This should not be used for diagnosing health problems or for self-medication. Boehringer Ingelheim shall not be responsible for any damages or losses arising out of access to or use of information provided.