Understanding the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease is the first step for people living with diabetes to proactively manage their health.
Many Canadians don’t realize that type 2 diabetes (T2D) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) go hand in hand. Considering that 10 percent of Canadians are currently living with diabetes, according to Diabetes Canada1 — with another 19 percent estimated to be undiagnosed or living with prediabetes — it’s important that this connection be brought to light and that Canadians understand the risks and impact of diabetes.
Living with a life-altering condition
Weldon Wadden is a 74-year-old resident of beautiful Cape Breton, N.S. He was diagnosed with T2D 15 years ago after being prediabetic and monitored for years.
“It’s a rough go for anyone who has diabetes,” says Weldon. “It’s horrible. The worst part is getting a sugar low and feeling so weak. I hate when I go through that.”
Fortunately for Weldon, his daughter Nancy lives nearby and has been a constant source of support over the years as his primary caregiver.
Diabetes is a condition in which a patient’s body can’t make enough insulin to allow cells to efficiently take up dietary sugar, resulting in sugar buildup in the blood. The resulting blood sugar highs and lows cause weakness, drowsiness, light-headedness, irritability, and a host of other symptoms, and in extreme cases can lead to loss of consciousness and seizures — and eventually, to heart disease. In fact, Weldon now has congestive heart failure and has been through two heart surgeries.
My father’s biggest support is me, and as a caregiver I get support from the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Care Supporters’ Community, which is an online group. It helps remind me that I’m not the only one going through this.
The T2D and CVD connection
Dr. Mansoor Husain
Executive Director, Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research
“If you have diabetes, your chances of having a heart attack or stroke or dying of heart disease are two to three times higher,” says Dr. Mansoor Husain, Executive Director at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research.
These shocking statistics may come as a surprise to Canadians, but health care practitioners have long understood the connection between T2D and CVD.
“We’ve known for decades that patients with diabetes have a much higher risk of developing heart disease and that when they do develop heart disease, they have a higher risk of dying from it,” says Dr. Husain. “Many people with T2D don’t just have diabetes but also comorbidities — like obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol — so they often have a constellation of risk factors.”
In addition, diabetes accelerates hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and other forms of heart disease, too. According to Dr. Husain, doctors and scientists think it’s because people with diabetes have inflammation in their blood vessels and slower blood flow.
A condition that affects patients and caregivers alike
Since being diagnosed with T2D, Weldon’s life has changed dramatically. “I had to change how I ate, how I slept, and my activity levels,” he says. Despite being in the fishing industry since the age of 12, Weldon’s diagnosis forced him to take a step back. He still misses it. “I can see the ocean from where I live,” he says. “Every day I drive around and look at the fishing boats.”
The diagnosis has had a major impact on Nancy, too. As Weldon’s caregiver, she pays close attention to her father’s diet, daily exercise, and medication schedule, as well as to tiny clues that something may be amiss — like fatigue or a cough.
“My father’s diagnosis also made me think of my own health a lot more,” she says. “We tend to slough things off and just say, ‘Oh, well, it’s nothing serious,’ but sometimes the little things can lead to serious issues.”
Getting much-needed support
There are plenty of resources available for patients and caregivers alike that can ease the burden of disease management and help T2D patients be more proactive in their health care. There’s a lot of misinformation online, so accessing trusted and reputable resources is essential.
“My father’s biggest support is me, and as a caregiver I get support from the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Care Supporters’ Community, which is an online group,” says Nancy. “It helps remind me that I’m not the only one going through this.”
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