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Diabetes and Vascular Disease: How to Manage your Risk

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Vascular Cures wants to raise awareness around the link between diabetes and vascular diseases, like atherosclerosis, stroke, and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). Both diabetes and PAD affect millions of Americans and are caused by many different factors, including age and genetics as well as lifestyle factors. According to the CDC, diabetics are more than twice as likely to suffer from vascular disease. Fortunately, there are actions you can take now to lower your risk for vascular disease and also decrease your risk of diabetes.  

Why is diabetes so closely related to PAD and other vascular diseases? Isn’t diabetes a completely different type of disease? Technically, it is. Just because you’re diabetic doesn’t mean you have vascular disease, and vice versa. Type 2 diabetes is very common in adults over the age of 45. In type 2 diabetes, the body has issues with producing or using insulin. Insulin is a type of hormone that moves sugar in and out of cells. People who develop type 2 diabetes have cells that no longer respond to insulin (insulin-resistance) because too much sugar has been circulating in their blood for a long period of time. The lifestyle factors that can lead to Type 2 diabetes are often the same factors that can lead to vascular disease. These include a diet high in fat and sugar, lack of exercise, and smoking. That’s why it’s important to talk to your provider or care team about diabetes if you are at risk for, or have vascular disease. For more information on signs and symptoms of diabetes, visit: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/type-2/symptoms


What are some things you can do to reduce your risk of both diabetes and vascular disease? 

Managing your blood sugar by adopting a diet with more whole foods is one of the best ways to lower risk! Whole foods are more nutritious because they are unrefined or unprocessed. These types of food can decrease unhealthy fats and cholesterols in your body. Try to include whole foods such as fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy oils (like olive oil) in your everyday nutrition. Limit or avoid processed foods as often as you can. Foods such as candy, soda, sweetened coffee/yogurt are called “refined carbohydrates.” They can raise your blood sugar too quickly and increase your risk for complications.  

Exercise is another great way to lower your blood sugar! Physical activity causes your muscles to use excess sugar in the blood. Exercise may seem like a lot of effort. But it’s a great way to stop, reverse, and even improve the negative effects of smoking and excessive drinking. Adding any exercise to your week can give you more energy and a feeling of well-being. And starting small is always okay!   

  • If you have PAD and diabetes and want to start small, you can join a FitBit exercise/support group started by one of our patient Partners! If you’re interested in joining or would like more information, email us at patients@vascularcures.org.  

Finally, it is important to talk to your care provider about your risk for diabetes and vascular disease based on medical history and lifestyle factors. This is especially important if you are over 50 years of age. Managing your risk is something your provider can help you with. You can work together to set appropriate goals for cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels.  

If you take diabetes and vascular disease management one step at a time, your progress and the improvements in your health can really surprise you. 


For more information, check out these resources: 

Vascular Cures has more information about diabetes and vascular disease: https://vascularcures.org/diabetes-and-vascular-disease/. This includes a flyer you can download and bring to doctor’s appointments: https://vascularcures.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/VC_PAD-and-Diabetes_Hi-res-FINAL.pdf  

The American Heart Association has a great video and article about PAD and Diabetes, including why it’s important to show your provider your legs and feet: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/diabetes/diabetes-complications-and-risks/peripheral-artery-disease–diabetes 

Harvard has an excellent list of ways you can decrease your risk of diabetes and vascular disease: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/disease-prevention/diabetes-prevention/preventing-diabetes-full-story/. The American Diabetes Association also shares different sets of tips and advice based on which lifestyle factors you want to address: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-risk/prevention  

If you have or are at risk of having prediabetes, the CDC has an article all about how to reverse the damage of unhealthy lifestyle factors in order to avoid getting diabetes: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html 

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