Heart Failure – The Overlooked Diabetes Complication, Part 1: What and Why?

This content originally appeared on diaTribe. Republished with permission.

By Ben Pallant

Learn what heart failure is, what it has to do with diabetes, and how to identify and talk about this complication that’s often less discussed.

Healthcare professionals often discuss diabetes complications such as vision loss (retinopathy), chronic kidney disease (nephropathy), and cardiovascular disease (referred to as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease by healthcare professionals). However, there is a less talked about heart complication, heart failure. Heart failure refers to a condition where the heart’s ability to pump blood is less than normal, often meaning not enough blood is effectively circulating to the rest of the body.

This is part one of a two-part series on heart failure and diabetes.

What is heart failure?

First, it’s important to differentiate heart failure from other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, a heart attack, or cardiac arrest. There is also the broad term “heart disease,” which can encompass any heart issue. Because the names can get confusing, here are some brief explanations:

  • Cardiovascular disease, or atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, is related to the process called atherosclerosis, which occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in your arteries making it difficult for blood to flow normally. The plaque buildup can be caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglycerides, smoking, or a number of other reasons. When it builds up in the arteries that supply blood to heart muscles or the brain, a heart attack or stroke can occur. Read our article on diabetes and heart disease here.
  • In a heart attack, the blood flow (and the oxygen supply, since blood carries oxygen throughout the body) to the heart muscle is blocked, causing damage to the heart muscle.
  • Heart failure happens when the heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
  • Cardiac arrest is the sudden loss of heart function. Usually due to an issue with the heart’s electrical system that disrupts a regular heartbeat, cardiac arrest causes the heart to stop pumping blood to the rest of the body.

There are a number of reasons why heart failure can occur, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, previous heart attacks, or other conditions and structural issues that damage the heart muscle (like cardiomyopathy or heart valve problems). Your chances of developing heart failure also increase as you get older. The heart’s inability to pump enough blood usually happens in one of two ways:

  1. When the heart muscle becomes stiff, the chambers in the heart cannot relax. This decreases the fill capacity of your heart chambers. Nevertheless, the heart is still able to release more than 50% of the blood in the heart chamber to the rest of the body. This type of heart failure is called “heart failure with preserved ejection fraction,” or HFpEF.
  2. When the heart muscle becomes weaker, not enough blood goes out to the body with each heartbeat. Thus, the percentage of blood that is released to the body is less than 50% of the amount in the heart chamber. This type of heart failure is called “heart failure with reduced ejection fraction,” or HFrEF.

Diabetes and prediabetes have been associated with both types of heart failure. Heart failure overall is a widespread health challenge – over 6 million Americans live with heart failure, and it leads to about 1 million hospitalizations per year in the US.

Heart failure is usually a chronic condition that progresses over time. At first, people may not experience any physical symptoms at all because the body has ways of trying to compensate – the heart may become bigger, it could develop more muscle mass, or it could try to pump faster. Over time though, heart failure worsens leading to shortness of breath, fatigue, inability to exercise, and more. Eventually the heart’s decreased ability to pump blood causes fluid to build up in other parts of the body, including the legs and lungs, which makes ordinary things like breathing and walking difficult. This is called congestive heart failure (CHF).

To learn more about heart failure, check out the American Heart Association’s heart failure resources.

What does heart failure have to do with diabetes?

Heart failure is unfortunately one of the most common and deadly complications of diabetes, especially for people with type 2 diabetes. They are two to four times more likely to develop heart failure than people without diabetes, and having diabetes increases a person’s risk for repeat hospitalizations for heart failure. This is partly because many of the key risk factors for heart failure are common in people with type 2 diabetes, such as a body mass index (BMI) over 25 (click here for a BMI calculator), high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or a history of a heart attack. Other risk factors for heart failure include heart valve problems, sleep apnea, lung disease, and smoking.

But the shared risk factors alone don’t explain everything – diabetes itself is an independent risk factor for heart failure. According to several research studies, each percentage point increase in A1C is associated with an increased risk (8-36%) of heart failure. Researchers suspect that over time, high blood sugar levels either damage the cells of the heart muscles or force the heart to work harder due to damage to smaller blood vessels throughout the body and in the heart – this may be why high glucose levels are associated with heart failure.

Signs, symptoms, and screening

The Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association have identified a number of possible symptoms of heart failure. These include:

  • Shortness of breath during activity or when you lie down
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles and feet, and very rapid weight gain (due to fluid retention)
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing (or coughing that produces pink, foamy mucus)
  • Chest pain if the heart failure is caused by a heart attack
  • Lack of appetite or nausea
  • Confusion or impaired thinking

It is especially important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain, severe fatigue or weakness, rapid or irregular heartbeats with shortness of breath or fainting, or sudden, severe shortness of breath especially if it is associated with coughing up pink, foamy mucus. For CHF especially, seeking timely medical attention is essential.

Talking to your healthcare team is key to making sure you are staying healthy, and it can help identify an early diagnosis. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, ask your healthcare professional if you can be tested for heart failure. Even if you aren’t exhibiting symptoms, start a conversation about what you can do to stay healthy and prevent future complications.

How do healthcare professionals test for heart failure?

Heart failure is most commonly assessed using medical imaging techniques that allow healthcare professionals to “see” the heart and assess its function. The most common test associated with heart failure is echocardiography (often called an “echo”) which is a non-invasive, painless ultrasound image of the heart. The echocardiogram can show how thick the heart muscle is and how much blood is pumped out of the left ventricle (one of the heart’s four chambers) with each beat. This information can be used to determine whether heart failure involves preserved or reduced ejection fraction.

Other imaging tests include an x-ray, an MRI, and a myocardial perfusion scan. An x-ray can see if the heart is enlarged or if there is fluid in the lungs, two signs of CHF. If your healthcare professional is concerned that there may be damage to the heart muscle or blockages of major blood vessels to the heart muscle, they may recommend an MRI. A myocardial perfusion scan uses a tiny amount of a radioactive substance that allows the heart to be imaged. It can show how well the heart muscle is pumping and areas with poor blood flow. This scan is often done with an exercise stress test (explained below).

In addition to these different imaging techniques, healthcare professionals use exercise stress tests (which measure how a person responds to increasingly difficult exercise) as a measure of heart function, blood tests to check for heart failure-associated strain on the kidney and liver, or an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) test to look at the heart’s electrical activity for signs of a heart attack and to see if the heart rhythm is abnormal.

Before any of these heart tests are ordered, your healthcare team will usually conduct a physical exam to determine what your symptoms are and what tests are needed. It’s important to be honest – your healthcare team needs to know about your lifestyle, including whether you smoke cigarettes, eat a lot of high-fat foods, and are physically active. Be prepared to answer other questions too:

  • When did symptoms begin?
  • How severe are the symptoms?
  • Does anything make the symptoms better or worse?
  • Do you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure?
  • Are you taking any medications, including over-the counter-drugs, vitamins, supplements, or prescriptions?

To learn more about heart failure, including prevention, medication options, and management tips, read “Heart Failure – The Overlooked Diabetes Complication, Part 2: Prevention and Management,” which our team will be updating this summer. You can also check out the Know Diabetes By Heart resources on heart failure.

This article was originally published on June 15, 2018. It was updated in May 2021 by Matthew Garza as part of a series to help people with diabetes learn how to support heart health, made possible in part by the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association’s Know Diabetes by Heart initiative.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Most Important Vitamins People with Diabetes Need

People with diabetes have special dietary requirements, but unfortunately, lots of important vitamins and minerals are lacking in the standard American diet. That’s where vitamins can play a crucial role in supplementing one’s health. This article will outline the most important vitamins that people with diabetes need to live their healthiest life.

Vitamin B12

People with diabetes with nerve damage in their hands and feet may see their symptoms worsen if they have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 helps improve the health of red blood cells and boosts brain function.

Studies show that long-term use of the diabetes drug Metformin can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency, and strong sources of the vitamin can be found in fish, dairy milk, meat products, and eggs. There are also vegan and vegetarian forms of Vitamin B12 that can be taken orally in pill form.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiencies are common in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and a recent study out of Denmark has shown that people with diabetes who have a Vitamin D deficiency are at an increased risk of diabetes complications and premature death. Solving for this vitamin is cheap and easy: sitting in the sun for 15-20 minutes per day without sunscreen will restore most deficiencies, or Vitamin D can be found in fish, dairy products, or egg yolks.

Vitamin C

Increasing one’s intake of Vitamin C helps control the levels of sorbitol in the blood, which can be harmful at high levels and may contribute to retinopathy and kidney damage, which are common complications of diabetes. Vitamin C can also increase insulin sensitivity, reduce insulin resistance, and help people improve their HbA1c levels.

Vitamin C is found in many fruits (and juices) such as lemons, oranges, tomatoes, guava, watermelon, and strawberries, and is also readily available in supplement form. It is also abundant in vegetables like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and peppers.

Chromium

Studies show that chromium, found in brewer’s yeast, improves insulin sensitivity and tolerance in people with type 2 diabetes. Chromium helps maintain healthy skin, hair, and eyes. It is effective at supporting the nervous system and enhancing immune system function. Chromium can be found only in trace amounts in foods like meat, spices, and grains, so people with diabetes should take chromium supplements.

Curcumin

A 2013 meta-analysis shows that curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) lowers blood glucose levels, increases insulin sensitivity, and stabilizes blood sugar levels, helping to decrease the likelihood of complications in people with diabetes. Researchers also found that curcumin may play a role in diabetes prevention.

Turmeric and curcumin also help improve mood, which is important for people with diabetes as depression and anxiety are found at much higher rates in this population, aid in digestion, and even improve immune system health.

This extract can be found in over-the-counter supplements and can be added to foods in its natural form (Turmeric), found in the spice aisle of any grocery store. Make sure to consume turmeric with black pepper, as the spice enhances curcumin absorption in the body by up to 2,000%, maximizing its benefits.

Always work with your doctor and/or registered dietitian to determine which vitamins you should incorporate into your daily routine. Your doctor will most likely order a blood test or urine sample to determine what’s needed, but supplementing your diet with more vitamins and minerals can be helpful to achieve better blood sugars and lower HbA1c levels in the short term, and may even prevent long-term diabetes complications and premature death.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

10 Most Common Questions Answered After a Type 2 Diagnosis

Facing a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can be a difficult and confusing time. Many ask “why me?”,  some may feel shame due to the stigma surrounding type 2,  while others want to know what they can proactively do to better their health. I asked people living with type 2 diabetes what their initial questions were at diagnosis. Hopefully, this can help some of you who are learning how to live with this new condition.

1. What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is the presence of excess sugar in your blood due to your body’s resistance to insulin and, in many cases, production of too little insulin. You can think of insulin as the key that opens cells and allows glucose (i.e. sugar) to enter your cells. If your body is insulin resistant, then it cannot use the insulin effectively enough to allow the correct amount of sugar to enter your cells. In this case, it builds up in the blood, causing high blood sugar levels.

2. Why did this happen to me?

We know that there are both environmental and genetic factors associated with a type 2 diagnosis. We also know that obesity can lead to diabetes, but not everyone who is obese winds up with type 2 diabetes. Age, ethnicity and numerous other factors also come into play. Try not to be discouraged by your diagnosis. Instead, use it as an opportunity to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle. This will help you to avoid issues down the road, and can help turn the diagnosis into a positive change in your life.

3. What should my blood sugars be?

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a fasting or before meal blood glucose of 80-130 mg/dL and 1-2 hours after the beginning of the meal (postprandial) of less than 180 mg/dL. There are of course factors related to food and insulin doses that can affect these numbers. Fasting numbers should ideally be under 100 mg/dL, but this will vary from person to person. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn what their specific recommendations are for your unique situation.

4. Are there alternative treatments?

While there are complementary and alternative treatment options available, they do not claim to cure diabetes. However,  they may be beneficial in many ways that can indirectly improve your diabetes health. With that said, traditional medicine prescribed by your doctor should always be taken, and alternatives could be an addition to your regular treatment protocol.

One alternative approach that is a surefire way to help your overall health and improve your blood sugars is improving diet and exercise. Eating healthy — making sure you get plenty of protein and focus on unprocessed and nutritious foods, like plenty of vegetables — and making sure to stay active can help you to stay maintain optimal shape and blood sugars.

Other alternative treatments to consider are meditation and aromatherapy, both of which may help to alleviate stress, a contributor to high blood sugars. Also, be sure to explore acupuncture and acupressure if you have neuropathy-induced pain, as both of these are known to alleviate pain and improve circulation.

While some herbs and supplements may help prevent heart disease and have other health benefits, there is no evidence that they can actually help a person manage their diabetes. The ADA, in its 2017 Standard of Medical Care in Diabetes statement, stated the following, “There’s no evidence that taking supplements or vitamins benefits those with diabetes who do not have vitamin deficiencies.”

5. Will I have to go on insulin?

At diagnosis and in the early stages of type 2 diabetes, your doctor will likely advise you to incorporate lifestyle modifications, like diet and exercise, to help lower your blood sugar. If that doesn’t help, or if you are not diagnosed early on, then oral medication is often recommended. If your blood sugars aren’t at an optimal level, it is possible that your doctor may suggest going insulin.

While some people will think going on insulin means they failed at controlling their blood sugars on their own, that is not the case and oftentimes, people prefer to be on insulin as you can be more flexible with what you eat and when. Insulin may also help your pancreas to make insulin longer and has been shown to help control blood sugars better than oral medications alone. It doesn’t matter how, but that you maintain healthy blood sugars to avoid complications such as vision loss, nerve and kidney damage and heart disease.

6. What doctors should I see annually?

Living with diabetes could mean complications down the road so it is important to stay on top of your diabetes care so you can flag issues before they worsen. You should visit your eye doctor annually, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, to check for potentially serious conditions, such as: glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema.

Patients who have been living with type 2 diabetes for a long time are at a greater risk for kidney disease and may also need to be under a nephrologist’s care. They can also administer dialysis, for those patients undergoing dialysis treatment.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Podiatrists are also important doctors to routinely visit as nerve damage can ensue over time for patients living with diabetes. People with diabetes can also be more susceptible to wounds not healing properly, and podiatrists can check for infections that could worsen and lead to gangrene and even amputation.

Other specialists to consider are a dietician and personal trainer, if you feel you need help with reaching your diet and fitness goals.

7. How much should I expect this disease to cost me?

Living with type two diabetes places a significant economic burden on the individual. Costs vary depending on what country you live in. A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine concluded that the average medical costs over someone’s lifetime were $85,200, of which 53% was due to treating diabetes complications, and 57% of the total attributed to macrovascular complications. Making sure to see your doctors regularly and staying on top of your diabetes management can result in long term savings in healthcare costs.

8. Can I manage it just through diet and exercise? Can it be reversed?

Remission of type 2 diabetes is possible.

While you can’t necessarily “reverse it” you can certainly control it and some can even put it into remission. This depends on the individual, their overall health, how far into the condition they are along with other factors such as beta-cell function and insulin resistance. However, with healthy eating and regular exercise, many are able to free themselves from medications, and maintain normal blood glucose levels, thus preventing complications.

Be wary of fad diets and gimmicks that promise to cure you of type 2 diabetes. Reversing and prolonging the progression of this disease is up to the individual and their dedication to a healthy lifestyle and numerous other health factors (like co-existing health conditions and access to the most appropriate and affordable healthcare) may help or hinder their efforts.

9. Does having diabetes lower my life expectancy?

Diabetes is historically known for shortening a person’s lifespan but the good news is that with medication, technology, and a little effort, this doesn’t have to be the case. According to the CDC, diabetes is the 7th most common cause of death in the United States. This statistic doesn’t distinguish type 1 from type 2 diabetes and it also doesn’t take into account all of the complications that could be the main cause for death.

If you are actively managing your diabetes, you are less likely to develop these issues that could lead to a shorter life span. And, on a positive note, many find that they are actually healthier once diagnosed, as it helps them to make better choices for a healthier lifestyle.

10. Are my children at risk?

While genetics do play a strong role, this only means you are more at risk of developing diabetes, not that you will necessarily be diagnosed. Many other factors come into play, and while diabetes runs in families, developing healthy habits, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping active can help stave off a diagnosis as well.

A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be a death sentence. With a little determination and support from your medical team and loved ones, you can manage this condition. Asking questions and staying on top of your diabetes care is key to maintaining long term success.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

National Kidney Month

March is National Kidney Month. The kidneys serve an important role in filtering and balancing fluids in our bodies. Over time, high blood sugar can cause damage to this system. Although many of us are acutely aware of the link between diabetes and kidney issues such as nephropathy and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), there is […]
Source: diabetesdaily.com

How to Reduce Urinary Complications of Type 1 Diabetes

This content originally appeared on Integrated Diabetes Services. Republished with permission.Frequency, Impact and Prevention of Urologic Complications of Type 1 Diabetes There are some very widely talked about and avoided complications of type 1 diabetes (T1D) such as retinopathy, neuropathy, nephropathy and cardiovascular disease. However, there are other complications that get relatively little notice but […]
Source: diabetesdaily.com

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