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

What Are SGLT-2 Inhibitors and How Can They Help Your Heart?

This content originally appeared on diaTribe. Republished with permission.

By Mary Barna Bridgeman

SGLT-2 inhibitors can protect your heart! This type of medicine is recommended for people with type 2 diabetes who have heart disease or risk factors related to heart disease. Learn about the use of these medicines, including side effects, their effect on A1C, and their role in supporting heart health

Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease: people with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke compared to those without diabetes. Heart disease is often a “silent” condition, meaning that symptoms are not necessarily present until a heart attack or a stroke actually happens. It is important for people with diabetes to realize they may be at risk – click to read more about the link between diabetes and heart disease from Know Diabetes By Heart.

There are many ways to take care of your heart and to reduce the risk of heart disease while living with diabetes. New medicines, including sodium-glucose cotransport 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists, have been shown to protect the heart and reduce the risk of many specific heart-related outcomes. This article will focus on SGLT-2 medications, and our next article will focus on GLP-1 medications.

Heart diseases

Image source: diaTribe

Click to view and download diaTribe’s helpful infographic on preventing heart disease.

What are SGLT-2 inhibitors?

There are currently four medicines that are categorized as SGLT-2 inhibitors:

These medicines help people with type 2 diabetes manage their glucose levels: they work in the kidneys to lower sugar levels by increasing the amount of sugar that is passed in the urine. SGLT-2s increase time in range and reduce A1C levels while also lowering blood pressure and supporting weight loss. For people with diabetes who have had a heart attack or are at high risk of heart disease, or who have kidney disease or heart failure, these medicines could be considered regardless of A1C level. While SGLT-2 medications are expensive, some assistance programs are available to help with cost – see one of diaTribe’s most popular articles, “How to Get Diabetes Drugs For Free.”

What do you need to know about SGLT-2 inhibitors?

SGLT-2s have a low risk of causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). Because they increase sugar in the urine, side effects can include urinary tract infections and genital yeast infections in men and women. Dehydration (loss of fluid) and low blood pressure can also occur. Symptoms of dehydration or low blood pressure may include feeling faint, lightheaded, dizzy, or weak, especially upon standing.

Before starting an SGLT-2 inhibitor, here are some things to discuss with your healthcare team if you have type 2 diabetes:

  • How much water to drink each day
  • Ways to prevent dehydration and what to do if you cannot eat or you experience vomiting or diarrhea (these are conditions that may increase your risk of developing dehydration)
  • Any medicines you take to treat high blood pressure

When prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes, SGLT-2s rarely cause diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. For people with type 1 diabetes, DKA is a well-known risk when SGLT-2s are prescribed. Call your healthcare professional if you have warning signs of DKA: high levels of ketones in your blood or urine, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, confusion, unusual fatigue, or sleepiness. When you are sick, vomiting, have diarrhea, or cannot drink enough fluids, you should follow a sick day plan – see Dr. Fran Kaufman’s article on developing your sick day management plan. Your healthcare professional may instruct you to test your urine or blood ketones and stop taking your medication until symptoms go away.

If you have type 1 diabetes or chronic kidney disease, depending on your level of kidney function, these medicines may not be for you. Additionally, SGLT-2s are associated with increased risk of lower limb amputation.

SGLT-2 inhibitors are usually taken as a pill once a day – often in the morning before breakfast – and can be taken with or without food.

What do SGLT-2 inhibitors have to do with heart health?

Results from clinical studies suggest SGLT-2 inhibitors may play an important role in lowering heart disease risks.

Jardiance was the first SGLT-2 inhibitor to show positive effects on heart health in the EMPA-REG OUTCOME trial. In this study, more than 7,020 adults with type 2 diabetes and a history of heart disease were followed. Participants received standard treatment for reducing heart disease risk – including statin medications, blood pressure-lowering drugs, aspirin, and other medicines – and diabetes care, plus treatment with Jardiance. Over a four-year period, results from the study showed that, compared to placebo (a “nothing” pill), Jardiance led to:

  • a 14% reduction in total cardiovascular events (heart attacks, strokes, heart-related deaths)
  • a 38% reduction in risk of heart-related death
  • a 32% reduction in overall death
  • a 35% reduction in hospitalizations from heart failure

Read diaTribe’s article on the results here.

Similarly, the heart protective effects of Invokana have been shown in two clinical studies, CANVAS and CANVAS-R. These two studies enrolled more than 10,140 adults with type 2 diabetes and a high risk of heart disease, randomly assigned to receive either Invokana or placebo treatment. In the CANVAS studies, treatment with Invokana led to the following:

  • a 14% reduction in total cardiovascular events (heart attacks, strokes, heart-related deaths)
  • a 13% reduction in risk of heart-related death
  • a 13% reduction in overall death
  • a 33% reduction in hospitalizations from heart failure

Read diaTribe’s article on the results here.

Farxiga may also reduce heart disease risks. In the DECLARE-TIMI 58 study, more than 17,000 people with type 2 diabetes received Farxiga; 40% of participants had known heart disease and 60% had risk factors for heart disease. Importantly, more than half of the people included in this study did not have existing heart disease. While Farxiga was not found to significantly reduce total cardiovascular events (heart attacks, strokes, heart-related deaths) compared with placebo, its use did lead to a 17% lower rate of heart-related death or hospitalization for heart failure. Read diaTribe’s article about the results here.

More recently, the DAPA-HF study evaluated the use of Farxiga for treating heart failure or death from heart disease in people with or without type 2 diabetes. The study included more than 4,700 people with heart failure; about 42% of those enrolled had type 2 diabetes. Farxiga was shown to reduce heart-related death or worsening heart failure by 26% compared to placebo, both in people with type 2 diabetes or without diabetes. Learn more about these results here.

All of the available SGLT-2 inhibitors have evidence suggesting benefits of this class of medications for people with established heart failure. Click to read diaTribe’s article on SGLT-2 Steglatro and heart health.

Other possible benefits of SGLT-2 inhibitors

InvokanaFarxiga, and Jardiance have also been shown to reduce the progression of kidney disease. Learn more about diabetes and kidney disease here.

SGLT-2s have been studied in people with type 1 diabetes, but are not yet approved for use by the FDA – you can learn about SGLT-2s for people with type 1 diabetes here.

What’s the bottom line?

You can reduce your risk of heart disease and promote heart health while living with diabetes. You and your healthcare team should develop a personalized plan to determine what ways are best for reducing your risk of heart disease. According to the latest evidence and treatment recommendations, SGLT-2 inhibitors may be most useful for people with type 2 diabetes and heart disease or at high risk of heart disease.

About Mary

Mary Barna Bridgeman, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP is a Clinical Professor at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University. She practices as an Internal Medicine Clinical Pharmacist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

This article is 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

Search

+