By: Justine Shum, MSIV

Patients with type 2 diabetes are more likely to die from heart disease compared to adults without diabetes. Adults with diabetes are also 2-4x more likely to have heart disease. In women especially, diabetes is a serious risk factor for heart disease.

Why does diabetes increase risk of heart disease?

Even patients with well-controlled diabetes are at an increased risk of heart disease. This is because patients with diabetes, especially those with type 2 diabetes, often have other comorbid conditions that increase their risk of developing heart disease. These conditions include hypertension, hyperlipidemia and obesity.

What does this mean for women with diabetes?

Women with diabetes are more likely to have heart disease. Even premenopausal women, who normally have  protection due to estrogen against heart disease, lose that protection once they develop diabetes.

Women with diabetes who have heart disease also have poorer outcomes after heart attacks. In the first year after a heart attack, women are more likely to die compared to men who have heart attacks. Women are also more likely to have a second heart attack compared to men.

What can women with diabetes do about their heart disease risk?
  • Control your diabetes: A1C - measure of your average blood glucose control for the last 3 months. Measure at least twice a year. ADA recommends a A1C of 7% although your doctor will may recommend more or less stringent goals
  •  Quit smoking!
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity is associated with insulin resistance
  •  Exercise: In addition to helping to maintain a healthy weight, exercise
  • Control your blood pressure: The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends lowering your blood pressure to 130/80 or lower
  •  Lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) level and raise your HDL (good cholesterol) level: The ADA recommends a LDL level less than 100, and with therapeutic lowering agents, a goal of 70 is recommended for patients with multiple risk factors. An HDL level greater than 45 is recommended, although the higher the better!
  •  Know the atypical presentation of a heart attack: Heart attack symptoms in women often are different from those experienced by men. Although chest pain remains the most common symptom, women often also experience a burning sensation in their upper abdomen as well as lightheadedness, upset stomach or sweating.

And always be sure to talk with your doctor about concerns and changes you may need to make. Remember, taking control is the first step toward prevention!

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