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Understanding Diabetes Complications: Cardiovascular Health

Understanding Diabetes Complications: Cardiovascular Health: Main Image
Fortunately, many lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of heart disease, peripheral artery disease, and stroke
Many conditions that increase heart disease risk overlap with diabetes, and poorly managed diabetes worsens existing heart disease. Three important cardiovascular concerns are high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, and stroke.

High blood pressure (hypertension)

According to the American Diabetes Association, two of three people with diabetes report having high blood pressure or taking blood pressure medications. Normal blood pressure readings fall below 120/80, while readings above 140/90 are considered high. Anything in between is considered prehypertension.

Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease is a condition in which blood flow to the legs (and, rarely, the arms) is reduced due to narrowing of the arteries. Approximately one-third of people over 50 with diabetes also have peripheral artery disease, and simply having diabetes increases the risk of developing it.


A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, typically by a blood clot that blocks a vessel in the neck or brain. If you have diabetes, your likelihood of having a stroke is up to four times higher compared with people who don’t have diabetes.

Make a heart-healthy plan

Fortunately, many lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of heart disease, peripheral artery disease, and stroke. Work with your healthcare provider to develop a cardiovascular wellness plan that includes the best-known health protections. They may not all be suited to everyone, so remember to run them by your doctor.

  • Regularly monitor blood pressure and take medications, if needed, to keep blood pressure in a healthy range.
  • Take medications, such as antiplatelet drugs or aspirin, to minimize the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit the amount of salt (sodium) in your diet.
  • Lose weight or avoid weight gain.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol.
  • Keep your cholesterol in a healthy range—below 100 for LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
  • Develop a regular physical activity program, such as walking, swimming, or biking.
  • Keep your hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C)—a measure of average blood sugar over two to three months—below 7%.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about dietary supplements that may help manage blood sugar levels, such as magnesium, chromium, fenugreek, glucomannan, psyllium, and other fiber products.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about dietary supplements that may help manage or prevent cardiovascular complications; some people with diabetes may benefit from vitamins D and E, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and fish oil.
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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