Diabetes can affect various organs and organ-systems of our body including the heart and the blood vessels. In fact, the risk of cardiovascular diseases is doubled in case of diabetics as compared to non-diabetics. Also, it has been observed that in diabetic individuals cardiovascular diseases occur more frequently and at a younger age.
Diabetic Heart Disease (DHD)
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can affect the heart leading to Diabetic Heart Disease (DHD). DHD may manifest in more than a single way. It can lead to Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) by formation of plaques (wax-like deposits) inside the coronary arteries which supply blood to the heart muscle. Plaques narrow down the coronary arteries thereby decreasing the supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the heart. These plaques might also sometimes rupture and cause blockage of the coronaries beyond a critical level thereby leading to death of the heart muscle cells that are supplied by a particular coronary artery. Such a phenomenon is termed as Acute Myocardial Infarction, also known as heart-attack, and is clinically experienced as a severe pain in the chest. This pain can sometimes radiate to the left arm, neck and jaw. Apart from this, in DHD, a decreased blood-supply to the heart for a long-term period can cause weakening of the heart muscle cells causing them to contract less efficiently. This may lead to what is known as Heart Failure (HF), a disease in which the capacity of heart to pump blood to various organs of the body is decreased. This makes the person to get fatigued easily on physical activity. Moreover, the back-pressure that HF generates can cause edema near the vessels of the lungs, interfering with oxygen exchange and leading to breathlessness, and can also cause swelling of the feet and legs. In addition, long-standing diabetes can also lead to certain structural and functional changes in the heart that cause a disease known as Cardiomyopathy – another manifestation of DHD. Cardiomyopathy can in itself cause heart failure and arrhythmias (loss of normal heart rhythm). The risk of DHD is further increased by other factors such as high blood pressure and obesity.
Watch out for:
A diabetic individual should be vigilant to notice the signs and symptoms of DHD including chest pain, shortness of breath, easy fatigability, cough with pink-coloured sputum, and swelling over feet and legs. However, sometimes even a heart-attack in diabetic individuals may go unnoticed, as in some diabetics “autonomic dysfunction” makes them lose the pain-sensation associated with a heart-attack. This is the reason why regular check-ups are especially important. A symptom that went unnoticed can be picked-up in an appropriate health check-up by the doctor, and necessary therapy can be initiated to prevent further damage to the heart. In fact, a routine check-up may sometimes reveal a problem even before it is manifested, enabling timely initiation of measures to prevent potentially dangerous complications.
But, there is good news!
Everything is not gloomy here – with proper care you can certainly reduce the risk of developing DHD. First and foremost comes taking your medications regularly and as prescribed by the doctor. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also of great importance. Quitting smoking, taking a healthy diet that is rich in fibres and low in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates (sugars), being physically active to reduce blood pressure and weight, and reducing stress in life go a long way in cutting the risk of developing DHD.
And there is hope!
Those who already have developed DHD should not get disheartened. Taking appropriate precautions and adhering to the treatment advised by your doctor can delay or even avoid serious consequences like a heart-attack. Moreover, advanced techniques like coronary angioplasty (repairing the narrowed portion of the coronary artery, with or without placing a “stent” i.e. a mesh in the form of a tube, to keep the artery open) and CABG or coronary artery bypass grafting (a surgical procedure by which the narrowed portion of the coronary artery is bypassed by grafting a vessel derived from elsewhere in the body) are now more widely available to manage individuals who have critical narrowing of coronaries.
However, prevention is better than cure
This age-old dictum still holds true. By following doctor’s advice and adopting a healthy lifestyle, many of the complications of diabetes can be prevented and a healthy life can be enjoyed.