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January 24, 2012 > Help Your Heart: Keep Your Diabetes Under Control

Help Your Heart: Keep Your Diabetes Under Control

Free Seminar Looks at How to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

Most people know that to keep their car in good condition, they need to get regular oil changes and maintain or replace parts like hoses and pumps to prevent a major automotive catastrophe over the long term.

The same is true of your heart and entire vascular system-the network of blood vessels, including arteries, veins, and capillaries that transport vital oxygen and nutrients all over the body, according to Washington Hospital cardiologist Dr. Ash Jain, medical director of the Washington Hospital Cardiovascular Institute.

Your heart and diabetes

"Uncontrolled diabetes is a major risk factor for vascular problems, which is why I talk a lot about it during seminars on heart disease and stroke," Dr. Jain says. "People need to understand that diabetes puts them at significant risk for both heart attacks and other cardiac diseases."

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 2, from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium in the Washington West Building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, followed by an hour-long support group meeting.

"Diabetes progresses over time and often has no symptoms during early stages of the disease," Dr. Jain says. "And even though you cannot feel it, it is affecting your entire body from head to toe, including all the blood vessels, from capillaries to major arteries. Damage to these large arteries can cause heart attacks due to blockages, and damage to small arteries can cause weakness of the heart muscle called diabetic cardiomyopathy. Diabetes can also affect high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Widespread damage

He says that if arteries in the brain are affected, it causes strokes; if the kidneys are affected, it could lead to kidney failure. Plus, damage to arteries in the legs can lead to gangrene and amputation. Diabetes is also so damaging to the nervous system that people may not even know that they are having a heart attack, known as a silent heart attack, according to Dr. Jain.

"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 crushing pain in the chest," he adds. "More likely, they will instead experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, weakness, and extreme fatigue."

Plus, due to the disease's slow progression, without regular doctor's exams people may not even know they have heart disease to begin with.

"I cannot stress this enough: people with diabetes should have thorough medical check-ups at regular intervals," he says. "Your annual exam at your doctor's office should include a stress test and an evaluation of the peripheral vascular system."

Controlling your risk factors

Dr. Jain says it's also important for people with diabetes to address both high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are also risk factors for heart disease.

"During the Stroke Education Series seminars that I present, I talk about high blood pressure and cholesterol levels as contributing factors for stroke," Dr. Jain says. "During the Diabetes Matters seminar, I also mention these things because they are all connected.

"If you manage your blood pressure and keep your cholesterol levels in check, it will dramatically reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and several other chronic conditions, including helping to manage your diabetes."

For people with diabetes, maintaining blood pressure within the range of 120/80 to 130/90 is very important, he says. In terms of managing cholesterol, people with diabetes should aim for a "total" cholesterol level of 150-with the LDL or "bad" cholesterol below 70 and the HDL or "good cholesterol" above 40.

Keeping your heart healthy

Dr. Jain will also offer several other guidelines and recommendations for reducing your risk factors for heart disease, including:
* Blood sugar control
* Weight management
* Incorporating regular exercise into your routine
* Quitting smoking
* Home monitoring of blood glucose levels
* Getting regular A1C blood tests at the doctor's office

The A1C blood test shows the average blood sugar level during the past two or three months and gives your health care team a better idea of how well your diabetes treatment program is helping to manage your blood sugar. Dr. Jain stresses that the A1C test does not replace the need for daily self-testing of blood glucose.

Education is key

"Education is a very important part of the process when it comes to diabetes management," Dr. Jain says. "Some people think that a diagnosis of diabetes will ruin their lives. The truth is that you have to manage the disease, but you can do it without making yourself miserable."

As an added bonus, he says, almost everything you do to improve your diabetes will help to prevent heart disease, which remains the No. 1 killer in the United States.

"We have very excellent interventions available for treating heart disease, but unfortunately-and we're not sure why-outcomes of these treatment options are not as good in people with diabetes.

"The bottom line is that you want to manage your diabetes to the best of your ability and do everything in your power to prevent heart disease."

Get the support you need

Support group meetings are held at 8 p.m. 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

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