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January 27, 2010 > Diabetes Can Be a Heart-Breaking Disease

Diabetes Can Be a Heart-Breaking Disease

Learn About the Relationship Between Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease at Upcoming Lecture

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), more than 65 percent of deaths in diabetes patients are attributed to heart and vascular disease, making heart disease one of the most life-threatening complications of diabetes. The risk is dramatic - the ADA warns that a diagnosis of diabetes as an adult presents the same risk as already having one heart attack.

"Diabetes is a progressive disease that affects the entire body from head to toe, including all blood vessels, both large and small," says Washington Hospital cardiologist Dr. Ash Jain, medical director of the Washington Hospital Cardiovascular Institute. "Damage to the large arteries - including blockages - can cause heart attacks. In addition to heart problems, the effects of diabetes on blood vessels can result in high blood pressure and strokes in the brain. If arteries in the kidneys are affected, it could lead to kidney failure. Damage to arteries in the legs can lead to gangrene and amputation.

To help people in the community learn more about the relationship between diabetes and cardiovascular disease, Washington Hospital is sponsoring a free "Diabetes Matters" class, featuring a lecture by Dr. Jain. A question-and-answer session will follow the lecture. The class is scheduled for Thursday, February 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium in the Washington West Building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

"Because diabetes causes damage to the body's nerve endings and limits the sensation of pain, people with diabetes who have a heart attack may not have the typical symptom of a crushing pain in the chest," he adds. "Instead, it is more likely that they will have symptoms such as shortness of breath, weakness and extreme fatigue."

Jain says that diabetes is generally slow in progressing, so patients may not sense any symptoms of heart disease for years, so the diagnosis of such problems may be delayed.

"That's why it is essential for people with diabetes to have thorough medical check-ups at regular intervals," he says. "An annual exam should include a stress test and an evaluation of the peripheral vascular system."

People with diabetes often have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are additional risk factors for heart disease.

"These factors are all interrelated," Dr. Jain says. "Controlling high blood pressure to the range of 120/80 to 130/90 is very important for people with diabetes. In terms of managing cholesterol, we often recommend that people with diabetes maintain an overall cholesterol level of 150, with the LDL or 'bad' cholesterol level below 100 and the HDL or 'good cholesterol' level above 50."

In addition to these guidelines, Dr. Jain offers several other recommendations for reducing your risk factors for heart disease:
* Keep your blood sugar level under control, monitoring it every day to make sure your diet, exercise and any prescribed medications are working.
* Losing weight if you are overweight or obese, since weight loss can help control your blood sugar level, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
* Increasing your level of physical activity to help your body functioning properly.
* If you smoke, stop smoking, since it damages the blood vessels, which are already at risk of damage from diabetes.

Checking your blood glucose at home with a meter shows your blood sugar level at that particular moment. The A1C blood test, which usually is done at your doctor's office, shows your average blood sugar level over the past two or three months. The A1C test is a good way to see how your diabetes treatment program is working to control your blood glucose levels. Your doctor may recommend an A1C test two to four times per year. The A1C test does not replace the need for daily self-testing of blood glucose.

"Control of diabetes is imperative, but you do not have to make life miserable in the process," Dr. Jain notes. "Studies have shown that adequate control, keeping A1C between 6 and 7, helps as much as very tight control that keeps A1C below 6."

Preventing heart disease is important for everyone - whether you have diabetes or not. But it is especially imperative for people who do have diabetes.

"We do have very excellent interventions available today for treating heart disease, including balloon angioplasty, stents and bypass surgery," Dr. Jain adds. "Unfortunately, the results of these interventions are not as good in people with diabetes. We're not sure why that is the case, but it makes prevention of heart disease even more critical for people with diabetes."

Come to the Diabetes Support Group

Success in managing diabetes has a lot to do with receiving and giving social support. For people who suffer from diabetes, Washington Hospital's Outpatient Diabetes Program offers a support group that allows people to have in-depth conversations about what's happening in their lives and share information about dealing with diabetes in a positive and caring environment. The support group meetings are held at 8 p.m. every month immediately following the hour-long Diabetes Matters lecture which begins at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month.

Family members and friends are also welcome. For more information about the support group or other classes and programs, call the Diabetes Services program at (510) 745-6556 or visit us on the web:

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