Technological advances today are impacting almost every aspect of our life, making our everyday lives easier with conveniences that have eased up a lot of our physical work.
But, the other side of today’s modern lifestyle is that for every problem solved by technology, other new problems arise. Among these new problems is the rise in non-communicable diseases.
Recent decades have witnessed a significant rise in NCDs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs are estimated to cause 74 percent of all deaths globally.
As of 2021, around 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, a number that has nearly quadrupled since 1980. As far as India is concerned, estimates indicate that 31 million more Indians became diabetic in four years (2019-2021).
The study also showed that diabetes and other metabolic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and dyslipidemia are much more common in India than previously thought to be.
The fallout of this is seen in the increase in morbidity and mortality from NCDs.
They are often silent killers, manifesting over time with minimal symptoms until a severe event such as a heart attack or a stroke occurs.
Among these conditions, diabetes and heart disease have become particularly concerning due to their interconnected nature.
Heart disease and stroke are the most common cardiovascular complications among people with diabetes, representing a growing health crisis.
In the United States, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes.
Understanding the relationship between these two diseases can help you make informed decisions about your health and take appropriate preventive and treatment measures.
The Link between the two NCDs
But how is diabetes related to heart disease? The link is the high blood sugar levels that are common in diabetes.
High blood sugar damages blood vessels and nerves over time. In the heart, this leads to atherosclerosis, where blood vessel walls thicken and lumens (passageways) narrow, leading to heart disease.
In addition, there are metabolic changes associated with type 2 diabetes, including high blood pressure, obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL (good), and high cholesterol, further increasing the risk of heart disease.
People with diabetes often have other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease.
These include high blood pressure, obesity, and high levels of cholesterol.
They also develop heart disease at an early age, often more severely than those without diabetes.
These are the same reasons why cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in people with diabetes.
Prevention Through Lifestyle Change
Preventing or effectively managing diabetes is the first step in reducing the risk of heart disease. Lifestyle changes are the first line of defense.
Quitting smoking and tobacco
Maintaining a healthy weight
Eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
A healthy diet and regular exercise can help control blood sugar levels, lose weight, and control high blood pressure and cholesterol.
If lifestyle changes are not enough, medications to control blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels may be necessary.
You can track your HbA1C level which reflects your blood glucose level over the last 3 months and work towards a healthy goal.
If it is on the higher side, it means that glucose levels have increased in the last 3 months which can damage your blood vessels and organs like eyes, heart and kidneys.
Although the HbA1C goal for many people with diabetes is less than 7 percent, goals can also change depending on your age and lifestyle changes.
A Holistic Approach to Diabetes & Heart Disease
If you're currently grappling with both diabetes and heart disease, it's important to know that there's always room to better your health status.
Treatment often involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.
This may comprise,
ACE inhibitors to manage high blood pressure
Drugs to maintain blood glucose levels
Regular health check-ups are pivotal, allowing for monitoring of response to treatment with adjustments in dosage and treatment as required to ensure blood sugar levels are kept within safe limits, and potential complications are averted.
Let's not forget, caring for health is akin to investing in your future. Seek guidance from your healthcare provider, stay informed, stay proactive, and above all, stay healthy!
(The author, Dr Rahul Gupta, is a Senior Interventional Cardiologist, Rhythm Disorder & Valve Expert (TAVI, Mitra Clip), at Apollo Hospitals, Navi Mumbai.)