Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Diabetes poses danger for the heart, body

Heart Beat

Diabetes poses danger for the heart, body

It's common knowledge that poorly controlled diabetes leads to a variety of complications. These range from heart attack, stroke, heart disease, and heart failure to kidney disease, eye damage or loss of vision, and foot problems, including losing a toe or a foot. Just how common these complications are, though, has been a bit fuzzy. A stunning report spells out diabetes' toll on health and the nation's pocketbook. Nearly three out of five people with diabetes (58%) have at least one complication. Complications involving the heart and large blood vessels dominate, although those stemming from problems with small blood vessels, such as kidney disease, eye problems, and foot woes aren't far behind. In 2006, treating diabetes cost nearly $23 billion.

None of these complications is inevitable. Keeping blood sugar under control with diet, exercise, and medications when needed can stave off microvascular complications. Paying attention to cardiovascular risk factors, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and taking aspirin can help ward off a heart attack or stroke.

If you have diabetes, you can get a sense of what various preventive strategies can do for you by using the American Diabetes Association's Personal Health Decisions Web site, at health.harvard.edu/120.

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