Diabetes and Heart Disease

Understand the Connection

ABCs of Diabetes


The “ABCs of diabetes” is widely used as a reminder of the importance of tracking your blood sugar numbers, along with your blood pressure and cholesterol. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are well-known risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

In addition to knowing your numbers, lifestyle changes are recommended to manage diabetes, and sometimes medications are as well. So if you're living with diabetes, try to remember these ABCDEs:

A is for A1C, or HbA1c, which is a test that measures blood glucose control over the past two to three months. The A1C target for most people is under 7%. 

B is for blood pressure. Nearly 2 out of 3 people with diabetes have high blood pressure. For most people with high blood pressure and diabetes, blood pressure levels should be <130/80 mm Hg.      

C is for cholesterol. Total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides should be monitored.

D is for a healthy diet and, if appropriate, drug therapy.

E is for exercise. 

S is for stop smoking. Smoking doubles the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes.

light bulb Even when blood sugar levels are reasonably controlled, some inflammation in the blood vessels is likely. So ask about your risk of heart disease and stroke — even if your blood sugar levels are in check. 

In addition, a healthy diet, regular exercise and certain medications that might be prescribed can protect your heart. Experts suggest:

  • Adopt a heart-healthy diet, or eating plan. 
    Eating fewer carbohydrates (especially simple carbohydrates such as table sugar and sweetened beverages that lack nutritional value) can help lower your body’s need for insulin and help regulate your blood sugar level.  

  • Ask about diabetes medications.
    These can help lower blood sugar levels, but it seems some of these medications can benefit the heart, too, especially in people with existing cardiovascular disease.

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Published: July 2018
Medical Reviewers: John Bucheit, PharmD, BCACP, CDE; Deborah Croy, DNP, RN, ANP-BC, AACC
CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief: Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC, FAHA, FASPC

Infographic: Diabetes and Heart Disease Risk

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