How Diabetes Affects the Heart

Diabetic Heart Failure Risk

Many people think "heart failure" is a synonym for "heart attack," as in, I nearly had heart failure when Carl gave me the new Engelbert Humperdinck CD for my birthday! But while a heart attack can be a cause of heart failure, they are two different conditions. Heart attacks occur because a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching your ticker. When a person has heart failure, however, his or her heart can't pump an adequate volume of blood back into circulation. You could say that the heart still works, but it fails to meet the body's demands.

Furthermore, while heart attacks happen suddenly, heart failure is a chronic condition that gradually worsens over time. The first signs of trouble are usually fatigue and shortness of breath. Lying down can make the latter problem even worse. Eventually, the heart may become so weak that it can no longer efficiently push blood through the circulatory system. Stagnating blood begins to pool in the veins and cause swelling, usually in the legs and ankles, though any part of the body can be affected, especially the lungs. Because this condition causes blood in the circulatory system to become congested, it's often called congestive heart failure.

About five million Americans have heart failure. The condition has many causes, including heart attacks. Even before the Big One strikes, however, accumulating cholesterol and other crud in the arteries will narrow blood flow, making the heart work harder than normal, which may cause it to weaken. Hypertension, infections, and other diseases can cause heart failure, too. While atherosclerosis and high blood pressure often accompany diabetes, some doctors theorize that elevated blood sugar independently increases the risk for a weakened heart, a condition they have named cardiac myopathy. The theory remains controversial. However, there's no doubt that heart failure is a serious concern if you have diabetes. Men with diabetes have double the risk for heart failure, while women with diabetes are five times more likely to develop the condition than the general population.

Doctors usually order patients with heart failure to lose a few pounds and moderate their intake of sodium and fluids, especially alcohol, which could worsen fluid retention. Heart failure is often treated with many of the same medications prescribed for hypertension, including ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and diuretics, as well as digitalis, a class of drugs that makes the heart muscle contract more forcefully.

We'll discuss peripheral artery disease, or narrowing of the arteries, next.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.