Type 1 Diabetes And Heart Disease

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February was Heart awareness month in the United States and having a diabetic grandson made it necessary to understand the connection between type 1 diabetes and heart disease.

Diabetes Canada says that having diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, diabetics may develop heart disease 15 years earlier than nondiabetics.

Data from the National Heart Association shows that 65% of people with diabetes will die from some sort of heart disease or stroke.

Quite frankly these statistics scare me.

Every day my daughter is doing her best to manage our grandson’s blood glucose (sugar) levels in an attempt to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and other diabetes-related complications.

I take on the role of caregiver when Alex is here with us and assume the responsibility of managing Alex’s diabetes.

Life will be like that for us until Alex takes over his own diabetes management or they find a cure which of course we are all hoping for.

In the meantime, as a family, we do our best to minimize the risk and give Alex the best possible start in life.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and kills the insulin-producing beta cells within the pancreas.

While it is unknown why this occurs it is believed it could be the result of a virus.

In many cases, it is hereditary. No one in our family has type 1 diabetes, so heredity is not the cause for our grandson.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can develop quite quickly and can include:

  • frequent urination
  • excessive thirst and drinking a lot
  • feeling very hungry
  • feeling very fatigued
  • blurry vision
  • cuts or sores that don’t heal properly or take longer to heal

Thankfully, our daughter recognized several symptoms in her son and immediately made a doctor appointment for him to get checked out. He was sent straight to the hospital, diagnosed and admitted while they determined the best treatment options for him.

I applauded my daughter for her swift action and following her instincts, I have no doubt she saved Alex’s young life that day.

Risk factors

Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented but there are certain risk factors that could increase your risk

  • having an immediate family member (parent, sibling) with type 1
  • age, it is usually developed in childhood or adolescence but can be developed later
  • geographic location, more common the further from the equator you go
  • genetics, the presence of certain genes

How is it treated?

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There is no cure for type 1 diabetes but it can be managed in an effort to avoid complications.

For our grandson, there are several aspects of treatment.

Although it is quite scary initially, it really doesn’t take long before it all becomes a normal part of every day.

Monitoring blood glucose

Initially, we did frequent finger pokes to test a drop of blood to see where his blood sugar levels were and then treat him accordingly. Alex now wears a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) so there are much fewer finger pokes.

Calculating Carbs

Calculating carbs is an important part of every meal. Alex’s diabetes care team has given us a ratio to calculate his dosage based on the number of carbs eaten at each meal. You will become very proficient at reading nutrition labels and a kitchen scale and measuring cups quickly become a necessary part of each meal.

Insulin injections

Learning how and where to inject insulin is a very necessary skill to learn when managing type 1 diabetes. Alex has his long-lasting insulin at bedtime and an injection of regular insulin with each meal.

Naturally, if he is running very high blood sugar levels he may require a bolus injection (extra shot).

Treating Highs

Sometimes blood sugars run much too high (hyperglycemia) and it is important to get it lowered closer to within the target range set by your diabetes care team.

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It is when blood sugars remain high for long periods of time that complications such as:

  • heart and blood vessel damage
  • neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Kidney damage
  • eye damage
  • foot damage
  • skin and mouth conditions
  • celiac disease
  • high blood pressure
  • mental health issues

Treatment of high blood sugar often involves drinking lots of water to help flush out the excess sugars, moderate exercise or bolus injection of insulin.

If your blood sugars have been high for quite some time it is important to test your urine for keytones. If keytones are present it is important to seek medical attention in order to avoid diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

Treating Lows

There are also times when blood sugars are too low. Low blood sugar is called hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia actually has three different levels.

Mild to moderate hypoglycemia can be treated with a sugary snack.

Severe hypoglycemia is a medical emergency and will require treatment with a Glucagon Kit and hospitalization.

Treating low blood sugars is very important because if left untreated the person can go into a diabetic coma or die.

Heart disease

Research suggests that people with type 1 diabetes have a much greater risk of serious heart problems and premature death, especially if they were diagnosed prior to age 10.

We find this particularly disturbing since Alex was only 4-years-old at the time of diagnosis.

When high blood sugars are left uncontrolled over a period of time damage to blood vessels occurs which can cause high blood pressure.

The most common cause of heart disease in diabetics is the hardening of the coronary arteries, which develops from a buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrition to the heart.

Not only are diabetics at risk for heart disease, but they are also at risk for heart failure, a serious condition in which the heart is unable to pump the blood adequately.

This can lead to a build-up of fluid in the lungs that makes breathing difficult, or fluid retention in other parts of the body causing swelling(especially the legs).

Symptoms of a heart attack

Type 1 Diabetes And Heart Disease - symptoms of heart attack

The symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • feeling faint
  • feeling dizzy
  • excessive and unexplained sweating
  • pain in shoulders, jaw and  left arm
  • chest pain or pressure(especially during activity)
  • nausea

Keep in mind not everyone has classic symptoms, this is especially true for women.

What to do

There are thousands of North Americans who die from heart attacks every year. If you learn to recognize the symptoms and act quickly you may be able to save a life.

  1. Call 911 or the emergency number for your area
  2. Stop all activity. Sit or lie down in whatever position is most comfortable
  3. Take your nitroglycerin if you have it (regular dosage)
  4. Take ASA (Aspirin) chew or swallow ASA if you are not allergic
  5. Rest and wait. Stay calm while waiting for help to arrive.
  6. Keep a list of your medications in your wallet and by phone. Emergency responders will want this information.

Reduce the risk

The ABCDE’s of diabetes management

A – A1c  most people are aiming for an A1c of 7% or less by diligently managing their blood sugar levels. The A1c is a test that measures your average blood glucose levels over the past 3 months

B – Blood pressure – the goal for blood pressure is 130/80 or less

C – Cholesterol- the target for LDL (bad cholesterol) is 2.0 mmol/L

D – Drugs – to protect your heart – ask your doctor about drugs that can protect against heart attack and stroke, blood pressure medications, medications to lower cholesterol and others

E – Exercise and Eating – it is important to eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as getting regular exercise

S – Screening – ask your doctor about tests for your heart, feet, kidneys and eyes 

S – Stop smoking – ask for help to stop smoking if you are unable to quit on your own

S – Self-management, stress and other barriers – set goals to reach your targets while living with diabetes, such as manage your stress successfully

Control high blood pressure

In addition to healthy living choices, many people with high blood pressure will take prescription drugs designed to lower their blood pressure while offering protection against heart attack and stroke. Sometimes more than one drug is required.

Lower cholesterol levels

Often people will be prescribed a drug called a statin to lower LDL (bad cholesterol). They may also prescribe other drugs to raise HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering other blood fats such as triglycerides.

Low dose Aspirin may be recommended to help prevent blood clots from forming. Not everyone can take Aspirin so be sure to talk with your doctor prior to taking any.

Quit smoking

We are all aware that smoking is a deadly habit. The best thing you can do for yourself is to quit now. Quitting smoking is very difficult so be sure to talk with your doctor for assistance.

Having the support of your health care team as well as your family will certainly increase your chances of success in quitting.

Regular doctor visits

Be sure you keep every doctor’s appointment.

Your doctor will likely check your blood pressure at every visit.

A1c levels will be checked every three months.

Blood lipid (fat) levels will likely be measured yearly.

It is important for you to know your test results. Be sure to ask questions about new treatment options, and what diet and exercise plan is best for you.

Your health matters, so ensure you are informed and follow your diabetes treatment plan exactly as set by your health care team.

Final Thoughts

Type 1 Diabetes And Heart Disease are closely linked and it is important you follow your diabetes care plan as set forth by your diabetes care team.

Frequently monitor blood sugar levels and treat any highs or lows as required before they become serious.

Learn the symptoms of a heart attack and understand what to do in an emergency.

The life you save could be your own.

I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences. We are affiliates, this means that if you purchase something from a link or ad on this site we may receive a small commission. This in no way affects the price you pay.

Have you experienced any heart-related challenges that you have overcome?

What would be your advice to other diabetics who may be experiencing heart challenges?

Leave your answers in the comment section below and please take care.

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10 thoughts on “Type 1 Diabetes And Heart Disease”

  1. Hi, I’m pleased to have read this crucial and educative information. I’m thrilled to know about type1 diabetes and that it can ultimately cause heart disease. It’s my first time to know about this, and having gone through this article has made me aware of type 1 diabetes symptoms. Thank you so much for providing this important information.

    • Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to leave a comment. 

      The incidence of type 1 diabetes is rapidly increasing worldwide. 

      It is very important to know the symptoms and to seek medical attention if you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms.

      It is also important to understand the link between diabetes and heart disease.

      The most important thing is to make healthy lifestyle choices, eat a well-balanced diet, get daily exercise, and adequate sleep. This will help ensure good health for years to come. 

      Take care.

  2. Hello there! This is a great article. It’s sad to see how connected some conditions are. Having just one of them makes it that much more likely to have another. Good thing that humanity is also doing what they can to resolve this and there has been so many advances in medical technology today to combat this. I am also happy to hear that your daughter is being cared for by such caring parents. Thank you for providing your experiences to help others who have similar experiences.

    • Thanks for dropping by Mike. 

      Yes, technology is amazing and I am thankful for the technology we use every day in caring for our type 1 diabetic grandson. Of course, we should totally rely on medicine or technology.

      We can certainly take our health seriously and do what we can to ensure optimal health for ourselves.

      We can eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, get regular exercise and adequate sleep.

      This truly is the recipe for good health.

      Take care.

  3. I know we hear vague and passing comments and assume we know enough about topics like Type 1 Diabetes, but I had no idea about most of this information.

    I own and write for MetaFire Life, which is a nutrition, fitness and supplement blog site, where our main recommended diet is avoiding too many carbs to keep insulin levels low, with a “fast” diet of fasting for 72 hours to quickly get to your goal body weight.

    These diet plans both rely on ketosis, and I was wondering why cutting carbs altogether wouldn’t be an option. No need for insulin, no problem not developing it.

    Does Type 1 also inhibit glucagon production? How do ketones affect a Type 1 differently? They are a source of energy for our body if we are out of glucose.

    Sorry if this is too many deep questions, but I am truly interested.

    Thanks for this article,


    • Thanks for asking such in-depth questions. That tells me you truly want to understand type 1 diabetes.
      Type 1 diabetes reacts very differently to diet and exercise than type 2 even though many of the symptoms are the same.

      The problem with restricting carbs in type 1 is that it risks them going into Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) which is very different from the desired ketosis for rapid weight loss. DKA requires immediate hospitalization.

      With Alex, we are constantly monitoring his blood sugar levels and if he remains high for too long (hyperglycemia) in spite of additional insulin we must check for ketones in his urine. If ketones are present we really push the fluids and if they continue to rise we are headed to the hospital.

      While type 2 diabetics can benefit greatly from restricted carbs, type 1 diabetics risk low blood sugar and diabetic coma.

      Glucagon is for treating extremely low blood sugar(hypoglycemia). Most of the time we can treat Alex’s lows with apple juice or candy.

      Yes Type 1’s do produce Glucagon but when their sugars are extremely low they can’t wait for the body to produce enough. They need it NOW or they could go unconscious.

      The easiest way for us to balance his sugars is by ensuring his mealtime carbs are healthy, whole grain carbs and balancing them with a protein source.

      Yes, he still needs insulin. The insulin is necessary for the glucose from his food to enter the cells for energy. Without insulin, his cells would not get what they need to function properly.

      Type 1 is a constant balancing act and is very time-consuming to manage and every diabetic should work closely with their diabetes care team.

      Modern technology such as Continuous Glucose Monitors(CGM’s) and Insulin Pumps certainly make a type 1’s life much easier.

      Thanks for asking all these questions, I hope I have managed to help you understand type 1 a little better. Feel free to reach out anytime if you still have questions.

  4. I can see how passionate you are about helping people who have this problem. There is so much you need to know and a beginner like me feels a bit overwhelmed by so much information, but I am glad you try to summarize the most important things in your blog. I am also happy that medicine and technology are evolving so fast to help us cure this disease.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      Yes, I am passionate about educating people about diabetes and the many complications associated with it.
      I am sorry you feel overwhelmed by so much information, I only seek to educate the public so they can make informed decisions about their health.
      It is amazing how technology and medication can work together to help diabetics all over the world.
      Hopefully one day we will have a cure, until then I will keep educating people to help them more easily deal with living with diabetes. Best wishes to you.

  5. Great article, Deb, as usual, I might add. 🙂
    I belong to the lucky group that has no problems with diabetes 1 or 2, but I do know people that have, unfortunately. Several of them with heart problems, so obviously it is a common combination. 🙁

    I had someone in my staff who has diabetes 1. He is a lot of years younger than me, but nevertheless had a heart attack a couple of years ago. He is operated and the last thing I heard was that he is fine now. An awful and frightening experience of course.

    My uncle had diabetes 2 and just toppled over one night while trying to get his socks out. At that moment he was sitting on the bed, so he fell softly but that didn’t alter the fact that it all happened very quickly. Too quickly for my aunt to be able to do anything, poor soul. They thought it had been a heart attack, given the symptoms.

    As you describe in almost all your articles, one can actively better an ailment. Yet it requires discipline and even when it concerns their own body, people can’t always muster that discipline. Alex will probably just do as his mother and you tell him, but do you have any advice for adults on how they can work on that discipline?

    • I love hearing your viewpoints, Hannie. You always seem to get me to think about things from a different angle.

      So sorry to hear about your uncle, it must have been devastating for your aunt. That would certainly have been a shock.

      It reminds me of the shock my husband must have felt when he found his own father(not a diabetic) after a heart attack when he was just a boy of 12 or 13. Having diabetes does not mean you will get heart disease, only that your chances are higher because of the possible damage to arteries from high blood sugars.

      For now, Alex does as he is told but as he grows and becomes more responsible for managing his own diabetes he may not be as diligent as me and his mother. Sometimes teens rebel about their diabetes and try to “be normal” by not checking their sugars or taking their insulin. This is called “diabetes burnout” and can be very serious if not dealt with soon enough.

      As for adults finding the motivation to take care of their physical selves well I believe it starts with wanting to be healthier and feel better. Making healthy lifestyle choices initially takes energy. You must feel deep down inside yourself that you want to be a healthier version of yourself.

      You need to figure out what that healthier version looks like for you. For example, do you want to lose weight, get physically fit, eat healthier, quit smoking, give up sweets?

      Some people may choose all of those things while others only one or two.
      Once you know your goal and have a full understanding of why you want that then doing whatever it takes to achieve the desired outcome is a little easier.

      Some people want to make the changes because they believe they will feel better, less tired, breathe easier, move around each day easier. Others have decided they want to be healthier to ensure they can be around to watch their children or grandchildren grow up. Me, I chose to get healthy because I want to travel and have adventures, rather than just exist. I want to go for those hikes, canoe that lake, sail that ocean play with my grandchildren rather than just watch them play.

      Once you have your reason the doing is easier. Thanks for bringing this topic up, it definitely needs attention.


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