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Type 2 Diabetes and Your Heart

The high blood sugar that goes along with your diabetes isn't a friend to your heart. The longer you live with it, the more likely you are to get heart disease. But there's plenty you can do to keep your ticker in good shape. The same strategies that lower your blood sugar -- diet, exercise, and dropping extra pounds -- can also cut your odds of having a heart attack or stroke.

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Know Your ABCs

Keep key measurements in a healthy range. The first three letters of the alphabet will help you remember your goals:

  • A stands for A1c. It's your average blood sugar level over the last 3 months.
  • B is for blood pressure. It's the force of your blood as it flows through your blood vessels.
  • C stands for cholesterol. Too much "bad" LDL cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke.
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Reach Your A1c Goals

The A1c target for most folks with type 2 diabetes is below 7%. But your ideal number might be slightly lower or higher, depending on your age and health. When you keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, you'll protect your blood vessels from damage.

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Lower Your Blood Pressure

Most folks with type 2 diabetes have high blood pressure, which can damage your blood vessels. Your heart has to work harder to pump blood through them. Over time, your chances of a heart attack or stroke go up. The blood pressure goal for most people with type 2 diabetes is 140/90 or lower, depending on your odds of having heart disease. Ask your doctor what your ideal range should be.

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Control Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol can be a friend or foe of your heart, depending on its type. LDL cholesterol clumps up in arteries and blocks blood flow. But HDL "good" cholesterol helps clear LDL out of your blood and protect your arteries.

Ask your doctor how to reach your cholesterol goal. The right diet, exercise, and medicine can help.

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If You Smoke, Quit

Every puff you take threatens your heart health and makes your diabetes tougher to control. The nicotine in cigarettes makes it harder for insulin to lower your  blood sugar.

Smoking and diabetes both damage arteries. When you combine them, your odds of having a heart attack or stroke go up. Talk to your doctor to get ideas on how to beat your tobacco habit.

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Manage Your Weight

When you carry around  extra pounds, it makes your blood sugar harder to control. Being overweight can also raise your blood pressure.

Fat around your middle is especially dangerous to your heart. Try to keep your waistline under 40 inches if you're a man or 35 inches if you're a woman.

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Get More Active

Move every day and you'll strengthen your heart and blood vessels, lower your blood sugar, and help your body do a better job of using insulin. Try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise -- the kind that gets your heart pumping -- 5 days a week.

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Make Smarter Food Choices

The same foods that lower blood sugar also keep your heart healthy. At each meal, divide your plate into three sections. Fill one half with veggies or fruit. Fill one quarter with a healthy carb, like sweet potato or brown rice. And fill the last quarter with protein, like skinless chicken breast, fish, tofu, or lean beef. And limit added salt and sugar in your meals.

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Know Your Family History

Did your mother, grandfather, or other close relative have a stroke or heart attack? Check out your family tree to get clues about your medical future. Having family members with heart disease makes you more likely to follow the same path. And if one or more relatives had a heart attack before age 50, your chances of heart disease could be even higher. Learning your family history can give you incentives to take care of your health.

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Control Stress

If you're stressed out, you may skip some healthy habits like eating right, exercising, or getting a good night's sleep. Regular stress can raise your blood pressure, lead you to add some pounds, or cause other threats to your heart health. Try to unwind with meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques.

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Take Medicine if You Need It

If diet and exercise alone aren't enough to improve your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, medicine can help. SGLT2 Inhibitors can lower your blood sugar levels.Statins lower your LDL cholesterol. ACE inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs) ease blood pressure. And aspirin could help cut your chances of a heart attack. Ask your doctor if you need to take one of these drugs.

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Know the Signs of a Heart Attack

Watch out for these symptoms, and get medical help right away:

  • Pain, pressure, or tightness in your chest, or that spreads to your arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • Nausea or heartburn
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue
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Watch for Stroke Symptoms

When you have signs of a stroke, it's a medical emergency. If you get to the hospital fast and start treatment quickly, you can improve your odds of recovery. Call 911 right away if you have these symptoms:

  • Numbness or weakness on one side of your body
  • Drooping face
  • Trouble speaking or slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Sudden severe headache
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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/28/2019 Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on December 28, 2019


1) Thinkstock Photos



American Academy of Sleep Medicine: "Patients with Type 2 Diabetes or Hypertension Must Be Evaluated for Sleep Apnea."

American Association of Diabetes Educators: "Heart Disease and Diabetes: Prevention."

American Heart Association: "Cardiovascular Disease & Diabetes," "Cholesterol Abnormalities & Diabetes," "How Can I Handle the Stress of Not Smoking?" "Stress and Heart Health," "The Diabetic Diet," "Why Getting Quick Stroke Treatment is Important."

American Psychological Association: "Stress in America: The State of Our Nation."

CDC: "1 in 3 adults don't get enough sleep," "Smoking and diabetes." "Diabetes and smoking."

Harvard Medical School: "Sleep and Disease Risk."

Mayo Clinic: "Heart attack: Diagnosis & Treatment," "High blood pressure (hypertension): Symptoms & causes," "Top 5 lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol."

National Diabetes Education Initiative: "ADA 2016 Glycemic Targets," "American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA) Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Type 2 Diabetes."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke."

Obesity Society: "Weight and Diabetes."

University of California, San Francisco: "Benefits of Exercise."

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on December 28, 2019

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.