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Diabetes and Your Heart

If you have type 2 diabetes, show your heart some extra love. High blood sugar damages your nerves and blood vessels, which can lead to heart failure and heart attack, among other health problems. But taking the right steps to manage diabetes and keep your heart healthy can make a big difference. Control your blood sugar and manage other risk factors to protect your heart. Smart lifestyle and diet changes can help you do both.

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Control Blood Pressure

People with type 2 diabetes often have other conditions that make heart problems more likely. High blood pressure is one of them. This means your blood moves through your vessels with too much force and your heart works too hard. Keep track of your blood pressure with a home monitor so you know if it’s trending too high. Typical goals for people with type 2 diabetes are to keep readings under 140/90 or 130/80. Ask your doctor what’s right for you.

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Count Cholesterol

Type 2 often means you have too much of the bad kind of cholesterol, or LDL, especially a small, dense kind. You also have low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and too many triglycerides. High cholesterol can clog your arteries, cause inflammation, and lead to a heart disease. Total cholesterol over 200 mg/dL is too high. Your doctor may suggest medicine to treat high cholesterol and triglycerides, but healthy habits, like a proper diet and exercise, are essential, too.

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Move More

Exercise does wonders for your heart health and your diabetes. It helps lower blood pressure, keeps cholesterol levels in check, and controls blood sugar. For most people, a good goal is 30 minutes a day of moderate activity -- like walking -- 5 days a week. But if you’re new to exercise, check with your doctor on how to start. Activity can make your blood sugar go too low, especially if you take insulin or another diabetes medicine. Learn the signs of hypoglycemia and what to do if it happens.

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Eat Heart Smart

A healthy diet helps lower inflammation, manage blood sugar, protects your heart and blood vessels, and can help you lose weight. Some eating plans, like the DASH and Mediterranean diets, are smart ways to manage diabetes and help your heart. They include:

  • Lean proteins like fish and skinless chicken
  • Fresh fruit and veggies, especially non-starchy ones like leafy greens
  • Beans, legumes, nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy fats like olive oil
  • Low-fat dairy

Of course, avoid sugary drinks and sweets most of the time. Limit fast food.

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Shake Off Salt

Salt makes your body hang on to extra water. This raises blood pressure and strains your blood vessels, heart, and other organs. Most of the sodium we eat doesn’t come from the saltshaker. More than 70% is “hidden” in restaurant or processed foods like cold cuts, pizza, and even bread. Check labels. Choose foods with less than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving.

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Watch Your Weight

If your weight is normal, keep it that way. If you’re carrying extra pounds, losing them will help your heart -- especially if you carry them around your belly. Weight loss may improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and your diabetes. Your doctor or diabetes educator will help set your personal goal. Usually, losing even 5% to 10% of your body weight is a good goal. For a 200-pound person, that means 10 to 20 pounds.

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Be a Quitter

Diabetes and nicotine are a dangerous duo -- they both damage and narrow blood vessels. So it’s important to try to quit smoking. The best way is to know ahead of time how you’ll deal with nicotine cravings. There are a lot of tools and resources that can help you make a plan, and you may have to try a few methods before you find one that works. Just don’t give up! Ask your doctor for help.

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Back Off Booze

Too much alcohol can cause big spikes in blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle, and irregular heartbeats. If you drink, do so in moderation. That means no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women. Generally, one drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor.

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Ask About Aspirin

Aspirin can prevent heart problems. Doctors often suggest it for people with type 2 diabetes who have had a heart attack or stroke to stave off future heart issues. It may also help if you have peripheral artery disease, a problem that narrows arteries and cuts blood flow to your arms and legs. Ask before you start aspirin therapy. It can be dangerous if you’re prone to bleeding problems.

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Sleep Soundly

Quality sleep is another key to good heart health. When you don’t get enough, you raise your risk for heart disease, as well as other conditions that can hurt your heart, like high blood pressure and obesity. Aim for at least 7 hours of shut-eye a night. Managing your diabetes can help you get good sleep. When the condition is out of control, symptoms could wake you up during the night.

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Stomp Out Stress

High blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, and other heart problems have been linked to uncontrolled stress. Plus, many people lean on unhealthy habits when they’re under pressure, like drinking, smoking, or overeating. Instead, try meditation, deep breathing, or another relaxation tool to beat stress in a healthy way.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/19/2022 Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on January 19, 2022


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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases: “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke,” “Taking Care of Your Diabetes Means Taking Care of Your Heart,” “Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity.”

American Heart Association: “Cholesterol Abnormalities and Diabetes,” “Sodium Sources: Where Does All That Sodium Come From?” “Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know.”

Harvard Medical School: “9 ways to protect your heart when diabetes threatens it,” “Abdominal fat and what to do about it.”

Blood Pressure Association (UK): “Salt’s Effect on Your Body.”

American Diabetes Association: “Conquer High Blood Pressure.”

Up-to-Date: “Patient Education: Type 2 diabetes and Diet (Beyond the Basics).”

Department of Veteran’s Affairs: “Diabetes, Drinking and Smoking: A Dangerous Combination.”

The Mayo Clinic: “Diabetes Management: Does Aspirin Therapy Prevent Heart Problems?”

CDC: “How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health?”

The National Sleep Foundation: “Successful Sleep Routine,” “Sleep Apnea.”

The Cleveland Clinic: “Stress & Heart Disease.”

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on January 19, 2022

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.