The diabetes and heart disease threat not on our radar

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Having diabetes puts you at greater risk of coronary heart disease, our nation’s single biggest killer, yet Heart Foundation research suggests the link between the conditions is not widely known.

Heart disease, including coronary heart disease, is a major cause of death among people with diabetes, a chronic condition marked by high blood sugar levels. People with diabetes can be up to four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people who do not have diabetes.

Despite the worrying statistics, Heart Foundation research indicates a lack of awareness about this connection, with just 2% of people surveyed nominating diabetes as a risk factor for heart disease.

The Heart Foundation is highlighting the close relationship between the diseases ahead of World Diabetes Day on 14 November.

Heart Foundation General Manager of Heart Health, Bill Stavreski, says Australians cannot afford to underestimate the impact diabetes can have on their heart health.

“Uncontrolled diabetes puts you in the danger zone for developing heart disease, so it’s concerning to see recognition of this key risk factor is so poor,” Mr Stavreski said.

“When it comes to heart disease, people are more likely to focus on lifestyle risk factors, such as diet and exercise, rather than clinical risk factors. While important, common conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure also need to be on our radar.”

More than 150,000 Australians are living with both diabetes and coronary heart disease.

High blood glucose levels from diabetes, which affects almost 1.2 million Australians, can damage blood vessels in the heart and make them more likely to develop fatty deposits over time.

People with diabetes – particularly type 2 diabetes – are at higher risk of heart attack or stroke because they are also more likely to have other risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight or obese.

If you are 45 years and over, or from 30 for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, the best way to understand your risk of heart disease starts with going to your GP for a Heart Health Check.

A Heart Health Check will involve your GP measuring your blood sugar levels, as well as recording other necessary risk factors, to calculate your risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years.

“Many risk factors can be managed by making lifestyle changes and taking appropriate medications as prescribed, and your doctor will support you in taking the necessary steps to improve your heart health,” Mr Stavreski said.

“It’s important to control your diabetes to help prevent a heart attack or stroke, and the increased risk of cardiovascular issues associated with diabetes is a good reason to embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle. This includes eating nutritious foods, being smoke-free, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.”

Visit the Heart Foundation website to learn more about Heart Health Checks, or to complete the Heart Age Calculator, which tells you your “heart age” compared to your actual age.

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