The Heart Foundation regularly warn us that cardiovascular disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia. Cardiovascular disease, which includes all diseases related to the heart and blood vessels, kills one Australian every 26 minutes and places a huge burden on our health system.
In many cases, though, cardiovascular disease can be prevented and managed by recognising and managing some of the key lifestyle-related risk factors.
The connection between diabetes and heart disease
Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease. According to Diabetes Australia, heart attacks and strokes are up to four times more likely in people with diabetes.
Having diabetes may play a role in causing blood vessels to narrow or clog up – a condition known as atherosclerosis – and this can lead to more serious forms of heart disease and heart attack. In fact, sometimes diabetes is not diagnosed until someone experiences a complication like a heart attack.
There are two types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body has trouble producing enough insulin in the pancreas, whereas type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the body destroys the cells in the pancreas which make insulin.
While Type 1 diabetes typically appears in early teenage years, Type 2 diabetes occurs later in life and is linked to a range of lifestyle risk factors which can be modified. This means that, in many cases, Type 2 diabetes can be managed – and even prevented – with the right lifestyle.
Managing your diabetes risk
While not all risk factors are known, certain risk factors that do increase your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes include:
- Being overweight and carrying extra weight in the belly
- Not exercising or moving around often
- A family history of Type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes and prediabetes
- Being over 45 and overweight
- Being over 35, overweight and from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, or from a Pacific Island, Indian subcontinent or Chinese cultural background
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, meaning it develops over a period of years.
Managing your risk factors
The best way to prevent your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is to live a healthy, active life. It’s also important to be aware of any family history – as some people who seem to be healthy can also develop the disease if they have family members who have had it.
- Speak to your health professional – have regular health check-ups and discuss your diet, lifestyle, and any general health concerns you have
- Check your family history – be aware of anyone in your family who may have had Type 2 diabetes
- Modify your diet – eating more healthy, fresh foods and less junk/processed foods will help to encourage weight loss, along with regular exercise
- Exercise regularly – look for opportunities to incorporate more movement in your daily life – walk, stand and move around every day, and think about how you can also build an exercise program into your weekly routine
- Reduce alcohol – aim to build up to a maximum of 1-2 standard drinks every day, and have a couple of alcohol-free days every week
- Make small changes – if you’re not used to eating healthy foods and exercising, start slowly and do a little bit every day
While Type 2 diabetes can be managed with these steps, many people will also need to take additional medications or insulin injections.
Remember: if you or someone you know has Type 2 diabetes, or you feel you may be at risk, it’s important to see your doctor for a full consultation and diagnosis.