The Link Between Diabetes and Heart Health in Women

An increasing number of people are living with Type II diabetes, and learning about heart disease and its link with diabetes could potentially be life-saving. The statistics are pretty sobering, as nearly 70% of people aged 65 or older and who are living with diabetes will eventually die from some form of heart disease, while 15% will die of stroke. Adults who have diabetes are up to four times more likely to die from some kind of heart problems compared with adults who don’t have diabetes. There are seven significant and controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and diabetes is one of these risks.

It’s especially important for women to understand the risks, particularly as we tend to think about heart attacks as being a male-oriented problem. Often, women are not as concerned about their heart health, mistakenly believing that they are more likely to die from another disease like cancer. Unfortunately, the reality is that heart disease and stroke are amongst the leading causes of premature death in women.

Understanding the Risks

Usually, the term heart disease is used to describe a heart that cannot function correctly, for example, where it may be failing or if a person has had a stroke due to a blockage in their arteries. The most well-known risk factors for heart disease include high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and smoking, but there are other factors such as living with diabetes. Yet despite these links, many people who have Type II diabetes believe they are managing their condition well, but approximately half are unaware that diabetes could increase the risk of heart disease or stroke.

High blood pressure or hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease, and studies have found a positive link between insulin resistance and hypertension. People with diabetes will often have unhealthily high cholesterol levels, another problem frequently associated with coronary heart disease. Another factor is obesity which has been strongly linked to insulin resistance and to other factors like high blood pressure.

One of the problems with heart disease is a lack of knowledge about the symptoms. The most obvious sign of a heart attack is feeling pressure or tightness in the chest and especially when physically active. However, other warning signs include fatigue, dizziness, feeling nauseous or short of breath, or having back or jaw pain. Frequently, the symptoms in women are more subtle, and they may feel chest discomfort rather than the crushing pain associated with a heart attack.

How Does Diabetes Affect Heart Health in Women?

Many women with Type II diabetes are still unaware of the risk of heart disease. However, it’s estimated women with diabetes have a 150% higher risk of having a heart attack compared to women who don’t have diabetes. Also, having Type II diabetes can reduce life expectancy by up to 15 years because of the links with heart disease. One problem is that women diagnosed with Type II diabetes are more likely to be overweight or obese, and are more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, all of which increase their risk of heart disease. Even though women generally see doctors more frequently than men, they are potentially missing out on vital drugs.

Sometimes doctors may be more reticent to prescribe statins to women. A recent study in the UK of more than 450,000 people discovered that women diagnosed with Type II diabetes were 16% less likely to be prescribed Statins compared with men. Another issue that could be influencing a physician’s reluctance to prescribe drugs such as Statins and blood pressure pills is if they are being prescribed to premenopausal women. When this is the case, there is a risk that these medications could harm the unborn baby if women are taking these drugs and become pregnant.

Women were also less likely to be prescribed medication to lower blood pressure levels. It’s thought this is due to the problem of heart disease being viewed as a male problem because often men will see a doctor with chest pains, while the subtler symptoms in women such as breathlessness are frequently missed. This could be why doctors are not as alert to the risk of cardiovascular disease in women.

Now, the authors of the study are hoping to conduct further research to understand the differences and most importantly to find ways of minimizing them. The solution could be as simple as providing better training for doctors to make sure women receive the same preventative drugs as prescribed to men. Despite this, many women with Type II diabetes are receiving excellent care, but the concern is that everybody with this condition needs to get the best treatments to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease that could potentially become life-threatening.

What to Do If You Are Diabetic

If you are diabetic, there are lots of measures you can take to prevent heart disease. People with diabetes must closely monitor their blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. Other factors such as adopting healthy lifestyle habits like exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are just as crucial. Losing weight can improve heart health and increases insulin sensitivity.

Being physically active is another huge factor and especially when combined with losing weight. It can prevent or delay Type II diabetes, reducing blood pressure and helping to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks. It’s generally recommended that people take at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Smoking is bad for health on all sorts of levels, regardless of whether somebody has diabetes and it does increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. If you are smoking still, ask your doctor about how to kick the habit.

Most importantly, people with diabetes should speak with their doctor, or if their risk of heart disease is higher, they should see a cardiologist for cardiac screening. The good news is that nowadays numerous treatments can help to prevent deaths that are linked to heart disease, and which can also prevent heart failure. Often, anyone with diabetes will receive the best treatment when they are under the care of a cardiologist who will work with other medical specialists if needed, ensuring the best and most appropriate treatment and medication is provided.

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