Having diabetes greatly increases your risk of developing heart disease. In the final part of a special "Heart Beat" series, The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall has information on what you or your loved ones can do to lower your risk.
Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, and nearly a third of those people don't even know they have it. Nearly 250,000 Americans die each year from diabetes.
People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to get heart disease than non-diabetics. You are also at a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. And the reason for this is that people with diabetes tend to have higher blood pressure, be overweight and have higher cholesterol levels.
The good news is that diabetes can be managed through lifestyle changes, medications and changes in diet.
To prevent heart disease, it's important for people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar in check. But what exactly is blood sugar and what can happen if it's not kept under control?
Dr. Marshall explains that we all have glucose in our blood. It comes from carbohydrate foods such as bread, and it's the primary source of energy in our bodies. Insulin is a hormone our bodies produce; insulin controls the amount of glucose in the blood. It is made in the pancreas and released into the blood when the amount of blood sugar goes up.
When you eat, your blood sugar levels typically go up slightly. You don't want those levels to get too high, because that can lead to problems with your eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.
At the same time, you don't want to let your levels get too low, because that can lead you to feel tired and weak.
People with diabetes, especially those who are taking insulin, need to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels. There are now a number of at-home tests you can take. And you'll want to speak with your physician about what your target glucose levels should be.
Ideal Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure numbers tell you the force of blood inside your blood vessels. If your blood pressure is too high, it forces your heart to work harder than it should. So the American Diabetes Association suggests that you keep your blood pressure at 130 over 80.
Ideal Cholesterol Levels
Keeping your cholesterol levels in check is especially important among people with diabetes who want to avoid getting heart disease. Both men and women are going to want to keep their LDL, or "bad" cholesterol level, below 100.
Having diabetes doesn't mean that you are destined to a life of bland foods.
These are the same things we talk about over and over again when talking about staying healthy.
If, after making changes in your diet and lifestyle, you still can't keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check, your doctor can prescribe medications to help. Many of these medicines are very effective. However, like any drug, they can have side-effects. So it's important that you do everything you can naturally to keep yourself healthy before turning to drugs.