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.
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?
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 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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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
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)
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.
- Call 911 or the emergency number for your area
- Stop all activity. Sit or lie down in whatever position is most comfortable
- Take your nitroglycerin if you have it (regular dosage)
- Take ASA (Aspirin) chew or swallow ASA if you are not allergic
- Rest and wait. Stay calm while waiting for help to arrive.
- 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.
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.
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.