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Helping Patients with Diabetes Improve Their Heart Health

CardioSmart News

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among patients with diabetes but it doesn’t have to be, according to a statement recently released by the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this statement summarized the latest evidence on heart disease prevention in patients with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, affecting nearly 28 million adults in the United States. Diabetes can nearly double an individual’s risk of developing heart disease, but there are many steps patients can take to reduce their cardiovascular risk.

That’s why in 1999, the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association released guidelines about the prevention of heart disease in diabetic patients. Written by a team of experts, this statement summarized what we know about diabetes and heart disease prevention based on research findings. It also provided recommendations for patients and clinicians regarding treatment and lifestyle choices to reduce cardiovascular risk.

But since the last update in 2007, we have an even better understanding of heart disease prevention in patients with type 2 diabetes. Here’s what every patient should know about the latest updates:

  • Diagnosis. The way doctors diagnose diabetes has changed significantly in recent years. In the past, tests for diagnosing diabetes included a fasting glucose or 2-hour glucose. Both are traditional tests that measure blood glucose or sugar levels. But in 2010, the American Diabetes Association recommended A1C tests for the diagnosis of diabetes. The A1C test provides information about a person’s average level of blood glucose over three months. Since the A1C test does not require fasting, this test is often more convenient than traditional blood glucose tests. With the addition of the A1C test, doctors may now use a fasting glucose, 2-hour glucose, A1C test, or any of combination of the three to test patients for diabetes.


  • Healthy lifestyle choices. As experts explain, a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and a well-balanced diet is a cornerstone of heart disease prevention. A recent trial called the Look AHEAD study found that increased exercise and a healthy diet can help patients with diabetes safely and effectively lose weight. Along with weight reductions, many patients no longer needed medications for cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. A second study also found that Mediterranean Diet may reduce risk for heart disease by 30%.


  • Managing cardiovascular risk factors. It’s important that patients with diabetes address any cardiovascular risk factors they may have, such as overweight/obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Closely managing blood sugar levels can also significantly reduce risk of complications. Management of these risk factors can often be achieved with lifestyle changes, medication or a combination of the two.


  • Weight loss. Research suggests that in overweight and obese patients, losing just 3-5% of body weight can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk and improve health. In most patients, weight loss can be achieved through healthy lifestyle choices like increasing physical activity and healthy eating. When this approach fails, however, weight loss surgery and/or medications may help obese patients lose weight and improve health.
Learn about CardioSmart's editorial process. Information provided for educational purposes only. Please talk to your health care professional about your specific needs.