Balancing Act—When You Have Heart Failure and Diabetes 

If you have heart failure, your heart can't pump enough blood. It's a serious disease all on its own, but it is closely linked with another disease—diabetes. According to a report in the European Heart Journal, between 12 and 30 percent of those with heart failure also have diabetes. When you have both of these conditions, it's especially important to learn how to manage them.

The diabetes-heart failure connection

Why do diabetes and heart failure often occur together?

  • These two conditions have common risk factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight. Lack of exercise and obesity can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. They can also lead to high blood pressure, unhealthy arteries, and heart disease.

  • Diabetes can increase blood cholesterol and triglycerides. A buildup of fatty deposits in arteries can then lead to heart disease. This is one reason that people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to get heart disease than people without diabetes.

  • Heart failure may cause insulin resistance and lead to diabetes. Scientists aren't sure why this happens. It may be due to changes in the nervous system, damage to arteries, or increased inflammation in the body.

5 easy steps to cope with both

A study at Harvard Medical School found that men could cut their risk for heart failure in half by following a healthy lifestyle. These same lifestyle habits can help you manage both heart failure and diabetes. Managing two conditions at once can be a lot to handle. To get the most benefit from your efforts, focus on these five key steps.

1. If you are overweight, trim down pounds.

Weight loss can improve insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Action steps: The best way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories and get more exercise.

2. Take a walk with the dog.

Exercise improves blood glucose control. It can help you manage your weight and blood pressure and strengthen your heart.

Action steps: Build up to at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. Some people with heart failure may have a lower capacity for exercise. Be sure to talk with your doctor about the best exercise program for you.

3. Shape up your diet.

Foods with fiber—such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables—help control both blood glucose and blood cholesterol. Cutting saturated fat helps keep your arteries healthy. It's also important to limit trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

Action steps: Diet changes can be confusing. If you need help, ask your doctor about seeing a registered dietitian. She or he can put together an eating plan that helps you manage both diabetes and heart failure.

4. Take your medicines as prescribed.

Taking all your medicines reduces your risk for a serious problem like a heart attack, and it can help keep you out of the hospital.

Action steps: If you see more than one doctor, make sure each has a complete list of your medicines. Some diabetes medicines can make heart failure worse. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns.

5. Visit your doctor regularly.

To keep both diabetes and heart failure under control, your doctor needs to monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose, and other conditions.

Action steps: Plan to see your doctor every three to six months. You may need to keep an eye on your blood glucose, weight, and symptoms at home, too.

Juggling the needs of two health conditions isn't easy. Make these five steps a priority. It's a balancing act that will keep you feeling your best. 


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