My friend Terry had chest pains for several weeks, especially at night. Getting up and taking a hot shower in the middle of the night made her feel better. Then, one day when she was driving to work, she felt nauseous and a stream of vomit spurted out of her mouth. Terry had not eaten breakfast. She turned around and went home and a friend brought her to the hospital. At the hospital, the doctors discovered that Terry had a blocked artery and type 2 diabetes. Although Terry was overweight and often tired, especially after a meal, she had no idea that she had type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes and heart disease
The doctor told Terry that her diabetes was responsible for the blockage and if she had waited and the blockage had gotten worse, she would have had a full-blown heart attack. Women are five times more likely to die of a heart attack than breast cancer. More women than men die annually of heart disease and diabetes doubles your risk of a heart attack. Non-diabetic women are less likely to have heart disease, a heart attack, or stroke during their child-bearing years (before menopause) than men. But this lower risk disappears in women, who have type 2 diabetes.
Undiagnosed type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can develop slowly over years and sneak up on you. Based on test results, Terry may have had diabetes for quite a while. Before type 2 diabetes develops, women may have pre-diabetes or insulin resistance, where insulin stops working in clearing blood sugar (glucose) from the circulation. The glucose tolerance test can diagnose insulin resistance.
Risk factors for heart disease in diabetics
Women with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease than non-diabetic women. But other risk factors in diabetic women also contribute to heart disease.
- · Genes
If one or more of your family members had a heart attack at an early age, which is before age 65 for women, you may have inherited some heart disease genes.
- · Central obesity
Carrying extra fat around your waist rather than the hips is also associated with an increased risk for heart disease.
- · High blood pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage your blood vessels and strain your heart.
- · Smoking
Smoking is a greater risk factor in diabetics than non-diabetics. Smoking narrows blood vessels, causing the heart to work harder and possibly depriving some tissues of blood and oxygen.
- · High blood cholesterol and triglycerides
Cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides can build up in your blood and narrow and stiffen your arteries. In contrast to plaque build-up in men, where build-up is in clumps, buid-up in women is more evenly distributed along the arteries' walls.
Preventing or reversing type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or even reversed by eating a healthy diet and regular exercise. It seems like a simple thing to do, but in practice, it requires a great deal of determination and the ability to let go of old habits. Terry was so terrified by her cardiac event that she made the necessary lifestyle changes. A basic strategy is to:
- · Establish an exercise routine such as walking or other workout.
- · Eat a healthy diet, rich in vegetables and whole grains, and low in sugar and fats.
- · Eat five small meals or snacks throughout the day instead of three large meals to avoid spikes in blood sugar.
- · Monitor your blood sugar closely if you already have type 2 diabetes.
A Woman's Guide to Beating Heart Disease (http://www.yalemedicalgroup.org/stw/Page.asp?PageID=STW000584)
Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke (http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/stroke/)
Women and Heart Disease Facts (http://www.womensheart.org/content/heartdisease/heart_disease_facts.asp)