Cardiovascular disease… What is it and how to prevent it?
It’s been proven that Diabetes is one of the main risk factors for developing Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), which affects the heart as well as the entire circulatory system. Cardiovascular Disease is one of the leading causes of death around the world, but fortunately, if people with Diabetes take the necessary measures, they can prevent the development and progression of this dangerous disease and thus enjoy an excellent quality of life.
By Joe Cardozo
Cardiovascular Disease is a term used to describe all kinds of diseases related to the heart or blood vessel, arteries and veins, which occurs when normal blood flow, which is needed to transport oxygen and nutrients to the organs and body tissues is affected.
Clinical manifestations of Cardiovascular Disease are divided into three categories, which are:
- Those that affect the Heart and coronary arteries or Coronary Disease, characterized by thickening or obstruction of the coronary arterial walls. This may eventually trigger Angina (which is a chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart), Myocardial Infarction (blood flow interruption to the heart muscle caused by blockage of the coronary artery) and sudden death due to the abrupt loss of heart function.
- Those that affect the Brain and cerebral circulation, which occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted due to a cerebral hemorrhage or thrombosis and can trigger a stroke, which causes death or an infarction in a particular area of the Brain.
- Those that affect the lower extremities or Peripheral Arterial Disease also known as Peripheral Vascular Disease, which usually occur when the vessels that carry blood to the legs, muscles and arms are blocked, which can cause Intermittent Claudication (a pain that occurs in the legs when one walks a certain distance and disappears momentarily after taking a break) and Gangrene which causes tissue death due to lack of blood flow and may have to require amputation of the affected area.
Why is Diabetes one of the main risk factors of Cardiovascular Disease?
Constant high blood sugar levels (Hyperglycemia) cause endothelial damage, which is a smooth and flexible tissue that lines the inner walls of the arteries and allows for normal blood flow to all of the body’s tissues and organs. Damage to the endothelial tissue makes the arterial walls stiff and sticky. This causes LDL (bad cholesterol) molecules to adhere to the arterial walls and along with monocytes converted into macrophages, form a foam layer which then becomes an atherosclerotic plaque. Atherosclerotic plaques increasingly obstruct normal blood flow, which carries oxygen and nutrients to all of the body’s tissues and organs, which they require to not die. Complete blood flow blockage to a tissue or organ will result in death or infarction of the affected tissue or organ.
The formation of atherosclerotic plaques or Atherosclerosis, also leads to other medical problems which can be important cardiovascular risk factors, such as Hypercholesterolemia or Dyslipidemia (high bad cholesterol (LDL) levels), Hypertension and low Cholesterol good (HDL) levels.
No doubt, glucose intolerance and Diabetes represent one of the most important cardiovascular risk factors, just like Atherosclerosis, Hypertension, high LDL cholesterol levels and low HDL cholesterol levels. If you also have Diabetes, you’ll have even more risk factors and if these aren’t adequately controlled, your chances of suffering from serious cardiovascular problems will increase exponentially.
People with Diabetes are 3 to 5 times more likely to develop Atherosclerosis than those without Diabetes. In the United States, more than 80 million people have some kind of cardiovascular disease. About 2,200 people die every day due to cardiovascular diseases. Cancer, the second leading cause of death, causes more than half of deaths.
None of this should happen if people with Diabetes maintain good control of their blood glucose levels and Hemoglobin A1c levels at 7% or less.
Risk Factors for developing Cardiovascular Disease
There are several risk factors that we can control and Diabetes is definitely one of them. If we know the risk factors and reduce them to the maximum we’ll automatically be preventing the onset or delaying the progression of Cardiovascular Disease, so it won’t reach more severe stages and so we can enjoy a better quality of life.
The main Cardiovascular Risk Factors are:
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
- Hypercholesterolemia (high LDL cholesterol levels)
- Excess weight or Obesity
- Physical inactivity or lack of physical activity
- Age (age increases incidence)
- Sex (women have lower incidence)
Men have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease because female hormones (estrogen), have a cardio-protective effect on women. However, in postmenopausal women the incidence of cardiovascular risk is similar to that of men.
How can we prevent Cardiovascular problems?
Fortunately, most of these risk factors are controllable and it is up to us to take all necessary measures to reduce them, so we can avoid any cardiovascular problems that may affect our quality of life.
Other factors such as age, sex and heredity can’t be changed, however we can reduce the adverse effects these risk factors could cause on our body through simple lifestyle changes.
The emergence and development of Cardiovascular Disease usually begins at an early age, i.e. in children and adolescents, and it takes decades to feel its harmful effects, so it is very important that every person with or without Diabetes maintains healthy eating habits, follows a daily exercise routine, avoids stress and doesn’t get into the habit of smoking since childhood. In people with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, the most important additional recommendations would be to maintain their blood glucose levels well controlled at all times and Hemoglobin A1c below 7%, while strictly following their treatment and visiting their doctor regularly to make sure everything is well.
Maintaining a proper body weight and exercising regularly brings additional benefits, as it helps increase our cells’ insulin sensitivity, reduce our blood sugar levels, bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, blood pressure, and makes us feel more relaxed, it also helps us increase our good cholesterol (HDL) levels and promotes better circulation.
It has been shown that eating foods that are high in simple or rapid absorption carbohydrates, saturated or trans fats and processed foods, increases our risk of cardiovascular problems, while foods rich in Omega 3 and fiber help reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.
On the other hand, unlike other diseases, some of the damages of Cardiovascular Disease can be stopped or reversed by using very effective treatments, which are currently available, or surgical interventions. The important thing is to stay alert to the warning signs of cardiovascular problems and act as soon as possible.
Diabetes Up to Date highlights the importance of staying well informed to maintain good health
Unfortunately, cardiovascular diseases have become the world’s most dangerous serial killers, and the best weapon we have to fight them, stop them and not allow them to continue affecting so many innocent people is to prevent and reduce its risk factors, which are the ones that help them act with full impunity and freedom.
Fortunately, knowing these risk factors and reducing them as much as possible through education and updated information, which Diabetes Up to Date offers, will allow us to fight and reverse this trend, halting its advance and not allowing them to continue harming the population.
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