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Understanding the Link between Diabetes and Heart Disease

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Most of us know someone who has diabetes. Nearly 1.5 million adults are diagnosed with diabetes each year. What you probably did not know is that diabetes can play a huge role in your heart health.

What is diabetes?
When you hear the word “diabetes,” what do you commonly associate it with? According to Mandy Brawley, RN and Diabetes Educator at Iredell Health System, many people think of the word “insulin.”

Diabetes is the lack of adequate insulin needed to maintain sugar for energy and/or the body’s inability to use sugar and insulin properly. High blood sugar is the main symptom that characterizes diabetes. Other symptoms include excessive thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, and fatigue.

How does diabetes relate to heart health?
“Keeping your heart healthy means managing your diabetes well,” said Brawley.

Diabetes and high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels. This makes the red blood cells jagged, which can injure vessel walls. Plaque can then build-up on the damaged vessel walls making blood flow to the heart very difficult.

Brawley explains it like this – imagine you are pouring extra sugar into your tea. You can visibly see the sugar granules floating and swirling in your tea. Then, imagine these granules trying to flow through your small blood vessels.

“It’s like little bits of sand or sandpaper scratches all the way through the vessel,” said Brawley.

Plaque builds up in these scratches, cracks, and crevasses in your blood vessel, making blood flow difficult.

What can you do?
If you have diabetes, you can start managing your blood pressure and cholesterol through diet changes. You can also increase your physical activity and establish healthy eating habits. Brawley strongly suggests creating a weekly meal plan.

“If we have some sort of a plan, we will choose to do better,” she said.

“It is not just about your heart, and it is not just about your diabetes … they work together,” said Brawley.

Visit your doctor or dietician if you are concerned about the impact your diabetes has on your heart.

Want to learn more? View a recent presentation by Brawley on the Iredell Health System YouTube Channel or to download Brawley’s meal planning chart, please CLICK HERE.