What Canadians With Type 2 Diabetes Need to Know About Heart Disease
Learn how to manage your sugars AND lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Photo: Resolve Films
Living with type 2 diabetes is a balancing act, requiring people to keep a close eye on their diet and blood sugar levels. The initial diagnosis can feel overwhelming, but it’s important to know you’re not alone.
When Cherylene Pinaroc was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 24, it came as a shock. While she had a family history of diabetes, she was surprised to be diagnosed so young.
That was 20 years ago and since then, the way we think about and treat diabetes has changed significantly. “When I was first diagnosed, there wasn’t a lot of information or support. I felt alone and unsupported and basically lost,” says Cherylene, who now works as a diabetes educator.
Over the years, thanks to an increase in awareness, information and support, Cherylene says she’s become much more empowered and now shares that insight with her patients.
“I decided to become a diabetes educator because it has touched so many people in my family,” she says. “I didn’t want what I went through when I was first diagnosed to happen to others that are going through a similar experience.”
When it comes to empowering patients, education is key. The more you know about it and how it can affect your body, the better you’ll be able to manage it.
“It’s important to realize that diabetes is much more than just elevated blood sugar,” says Dr. Alan Bell, a family physician and Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto.
Photo: Dr. Alan Bell
Having type 2 diabetes increases your chances of developing a number of other conditions, including an increased risk in heart and blood vessel disease (stroke, high blood pressure and narrowing of blood vessels), nerve damage, kidney disease and eye damage and more. “There is a very strong association between type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Bell. “In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death for Canadians living with type 2 diabetes.”,
The diabetes and heart disease connection
What does your heart have to do with diabetes? Well, diabetes along with its associated conditions like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and obesity can cause a gradual buildup of fatty deposits that clog and harden the walls of blood vessels. This narrowing or hardening of the arteries, when it happens in the heart, it is known as coronary artery disease.
“People living with diabetes have to be even more cognizant of things like blood pressure and cholesterol,” says Dr. Bell.
The good news is, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk.
How to lower your risk of cardiovascular complications
Your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease are connected and can be caused by several factors, including lifestyle, ethnicity, and a personal or family history of heart disease. , Regular exercise and a healthy diet low in saturated fat can help lower your risk (and are essential for overall diabetes management), but growing evidence shows that some medications that help control blood sugars also provide additional heart health protection., For patients with certain risk factors, doctors may prescribe medications with cardiovascular benefit.
Cherylene says she feels optimistic about type 2 diabetes management now. “There are more opportunities and more medications now when it comes to treatment,” she says. “We have medications that healthcare professionals are prescribing now that not only treat diabetes but can lower the risk of cardiovascular events.” 
Photo: Resolve Films
How to talk to your doctor
Talk to your doctor about your risk, and to determine the best course of action for you. “People living with diabetes should be aware that their risk of heart attack and stroke is high, and they need to do everything possible to prevent it because it is preventable,” says Dr. Bell.
You have the power to lower your risk.
Start by asking your doctor the following questions at your next check-up:
- Should I be concerned about my heart health or my risk of heart disease?
- What day-to-day changes can I make to lower my risk of heart disease?
- What other factors can contribute to my risk of heart disease?
- What else can I do to manage my heart health?
After 20 years, Cherylene continues to manage her diabetes and live well. She’s optimistic about the future and encourages her patients to have a positive attitude. “It’s amazing how medicine has evolved, and there are so many great resources out there now, to help you understand the disease and get you on the right track,” she says.
“Diabetes affects so many Canadians, so it’s important to remember that you’re certainly not alone.”
For Canadians living with type 2 diabetes there are treatments that, along with diet and exercise, can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease., Speak to your doctor for more information and to find out if these options are right for you. Visit www.myheartmatters.ca to learn more.