Diabetes and the Heart

womens-03.19Cardiovascular disease and diabetes often seem to go hand-in-hand. Now, researchers have found a formal connection.

Did you know that people with diabetes have four times greater risk of heart disease than people who do not have diabetes? Heart disease is so common among this group that this condition has its own name: “diabetic heart disease.” Diabetic heart disease includes coronary heart disease, diabetic cardiomyopathy and heart failure.

Coronary heart disease, associated with high cholesterol, happens when plaque accumulates in the coronary arteries. This limits or obstructs blood flow to the heart. People who have coronary heart disease may experience chest pain and, eventually, suffer a heart attack.

Diabetic cardiomyopathy means a change to the heart muscle not associated with coronary heart disease or high blood pressure. This condition includes ventricular dysfunction, meaning the pumping chambers of the heart do not operate correctly.

Heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to keep the body healthy. People who have heart failure may tire easily and not have enough energy to complete day-to-day tasks. Unlike a heart attack, heart failure is a progressive condition, not an event, and people in the early stages can manage their condition through medications and lifestyle improvements.

Shared Risk Factors

Why is cardiac disease the leading cause of death among people with diabetes? Part of the cause may be the shared risk factors. Underlying conditions such as being overweight and obese contribute to both diabetes and heart disease. Also, diabetes can increase conditions that cause heart disease. For example, people who have diabetes often have lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.

A Deeper Connection?

Recently, scientists have been investigating shared causes of diabetes and heart disease. Scientists at the University of California, Davis who examined the relationship between diabetes and heart disease found that high blood sugar leads to chemical changes that damage the heart muscle. Specifically, a sugar molecule called O-GlcNAc fuses with a protein called CaMKII, causing the heart to beat out of sequence. Scientists found high levels of CaMKII protein molecules that had been modified by O-GlcNCa in people who had died with both heart failure and diabetes.

So, What’s Next?

Researchers speculate that this finding will lead to new therapies for diabetes-related conditions. In the meantime, while diabetes and heart disease represent a double burden, it’s important to ask your healthcare provider about your risk factors for both these serious conditions.

On the bright side: When you spend time exercising or swap that bag of potato chips for a handful of celery sticks, you’re helping your heart and your endocrine system, all at the same time.

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