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The ABC's of diabetes and heart health

Main Line Health January 28, 2014 General Wellness

Diabetes can take a toll on your body in a number of different ways—eye, kidney, and nerve disease, poor circulation, and, in the most serious cases, loss of limbs. But it’s especially hard on your heart. Compared to their non-diabetic counterparts, patients with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, and more severe heart problems.

Although the elevated blood glucose levels that cause diabetes can be dangerous enough, what studies suggest that the link between diabetes and heart disease could be because patients with diabetes are also more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can be a dangerous trio.

“High blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol can cause blocked or damaged blood vessels, which cut off circulation to the heart and require it to work harder to pump blood. It’s how heart disease starts,” explains Donald Ferrari, DO, Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist at Paoli Hospital.

As most patients with diabetes can agree, a diagnosis requires a certain lifestyle change, including being more aware of sugars and carbohydrates in your diet. With all of these concerns, the reminder to control blood pressure and cholesterol, too, can be overwhelming. Not to worry, says Dr. Ferrari: Just remember your ABC’s.

A: A1C

"Elevated blood sugar levels can lead to complications that impact all aspects of your health, including vision loss or blindness, sensory issues, impaired kidney function, slowed wound healing, gum disease, and heart disease," says Allyson Fleischman, physical therapist at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital.

An A1C test can help prevent symptoms like these, and gives you a picture of your average blood sugar control for the past two to three months. It gives you a comprehensive overview of your blood sugar levels, rather than judging your levels from a single day. A1C tests give you the best overall picture of whether or not you’re maintaining a healthy blood sugar level. The A1C goal for most patients is below seven.

B: Blood pressure

Your blood pressure should be below 140/80, unless otherwise noted by your doctor. Visit the Main Line Health website to check your levels at a blood pressure screening near you.

C: Cholesterol

There are two different types of cholesterol: LDL or “bad” cholesterol which comes from red meats and salty foods, and HDL or “good” cholesterol, from healthy fats like oils, nuts, and fish. Ask your doctor what your levels from each should be and how you can get there.

Keeping your ABC's under control is important, but regular appointments with your cardiologist and primary care doctor and lifestyle changes are important components of heart health, too.

"Staying active is important to your health and can help keep your blood sugar in a desired range and minimize complications from diabetes," says Jessica Darrah, physical therapist at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. "Try an at-home exercise routine like walking, bike riding, household, and yard work to get started."

Lankenau Heart Institute is a network of skilled cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, and subspecialists who can help you manage your diabetes diagnosis and your risk for heart disease. Visit our website to find a Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist in your area. The Amputee Rehabilitation Program at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital offers an array of inpatient and outpatient services for patients who have lost a limb due to illness or injury.