Heart and Vascular Health Diabetes & Heart Health: Lowering Your Risks By Heart and Vascular Institute, November 23, 2015 About one out of every 11 people in the United States has diabetes. This condition can cause many other health problems, including a higher risk for cardiovascular (heart) disease, or diseases that affect your heart and blood vessels. How is diabetes linked to the health of your heart and blood vessels? Find out below, and learn what you can do to lower your risks. What Is Diabetes? Diabetes happens when your body is not able to make or properly use a hormone called insulin, which helps move glucose, or sugar, from your blood stream into your cells. Your doctor can check your blood glucose level, which measures the amount of glucose in your blood, to find out whether it is normal. Type 1 diabetes, which is less common and usually diagnosed in childhood, happens when your body does not make insulin. Without insulin, glucose will stay in your blood instead of moving to your cells. Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type, happens when your body cannot use insulin the right way. Diabetes and Heart Health Whether you have type 1 or type 2, having diabetes changes the chemistry in your blood. This can make your blood vessels narrow. Many people with diabetes also have other health conditions or habits that raise their risks of heart and vascular disease, like: High blood pressure High cholesterol Obesity Smoking Not getting enough exercise People who have diabetes are much more likely to have heart and vascular disease than people who do not. If you have diabetes, you might have a higher risk of: Heart attack Stroke High blood pressure Wounds in your legs or feet that do not heal Damage to the arteries in your eyes and kidneys Understanding & Lowering Your Risks It’s important to understand your risks and to take steps to lower them. You can help lower your risk of heart and vascular disease by lowering the following ABCs: A1C Blood pressure Cholesterol A1C is a test that measures your blood sugar level over the past three months. You may be able to lower your A1C level through diet, medicines, and exercise. Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries. Healthy blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg on a regular basis. Cholesterol is a waxy substance in your blood that can build up on the walls of your arteries. A healthy cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or lower. You can also help lower your risks by: Following a heart-healthy diet Maintaining a healthy weight Getting active Quitting smoking Managing stress It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about what works best for you. To learn more about lowering your risks, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484). Tip: Attend a free heart screening to gain insight into your risk factors.