It’s no secret that diabetes affects your blood sugar. However, you may not know why that’s a concern, even when you have the condition.
The sugar in your blood gives your cells energy. It comes from food and gets carried to every cell in your body by way of your bloodstream. When you have diabetes, this sugar builds up in your system. Without treatment, consistently high blood sugar levels can lead to serious health complications, and some can be life-threatening.
As a cardiologist with more than 50 years of medical experience, Yogesh Paliwal, MD, has seen how diabetes can mask the signs of heart disease — and even heart attacks themselves. That’s why he recommends preventive cardiology appointments for people who have a higher risk of developing heart disease, such as those with diabetes.
If you have high blood sugar, here’s how it can impact your heart and why you shouldn’t wait to schedule a visit with Dr. Paliwal at Indus Cardiology.
Heart disease basics
Heart disease is a catchall term for several heart issues, but the most common is coronary artery disease. When you have this form of heart disease, plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries supplying oxygen-rich blood to your heart.
Plaque contains cholesterol deposits. As it collects within your coronary arteries, it causes them to narrow, which decreases blood flow, putting you at risk of a heart attack. This can also happen in other parts of your body, including the legs and feet.
When blockages occur in the lower body, it’s known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and it leads to symptoms that include:
- Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the extremities
- Hair loss on the legs or feet
- Brittle, slow-growing toenails
- Shiny or changing skin color on the legs
- Erectile dysfunction
- Open sores on the extremities that don’t heal
In many cases, symptoms of PAD are the first signs of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes.
Diabetes and your heart
Believe it or not, diabetes and heart disease typically go hand-in-hand. In fact, people living with diabetes are twice as likely to experience heart disease or stroke than those without the condition. Worse yet, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in people with diabetes. But why?
Diabetes can damage two essential components of a healthy heart: nerves and blood vessels. Nerves not only provide sensations, but they also control your autonomic nervous system. These nerves regulate vital systems like your circulation, respiration, and digestion. However, you can have autonomic neuropathy without realizing it.
Nerve and blood vessel damage not only impact how your heart works, but it can also change the signs of a heart attack. They can even prevent you from feeling the most common symptom of a heart attack — chest pain. This makes heart attacks “silent” or painless.
The signs of a heart attack you shouldn’t ignore, especially if you have diabetes, include:
- Heartburn or nausea
- A feeling of fullness or chest pain
- Unusual fatigue
- Shortness of breath or lightheadedness
- Clammy or sweaty hands
It’s also common to have pain in the neck, jaw, or left arm, especially for women.
Protecting your heart when you have diabetes
First, it’s essential to keep your blood sugar within a healthy range when you have diabetes. You can often accomplish this by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and taking medication if needed. It’s also best to avoid smoking and limit alcoholic beverages.
Dr. Paliwal also recommends scheduling regular preventive cardiology care. These appointments can help identify heart disease early, so you can prevent serious complications.
Preventive cardiology consultations at Indus Cardiology typically evaluate:
- Personal and family medical history
- Blood pressure readings
- Blood glucose screenings
- Lipid level assessments
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) and echocardiogram (heart ultrasound)
- Doppler ultrasound
- Noninvasive stress tests
Undergoing these screenings on a regular basis can provide valuable information on your heart function, blood flow, and nerve health.
If you have diabetes, taking the right steps now can help protect your heart and keep you healthy, so you can enjoy life.
To learn more about preventive exams and heart care when living with diabetes, book an appointment over the phone with Indus Cardiology. We have offices in Montclair, Pomona, and West Covina, California.