Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(8):1577-1578

I have diabetes—why should I worry about heart disease?

If you have diabetes, you have a high risk for having a heart attack or a stroke. You are more likely to get heart disease—and at an younger age—than someone without diabetes.

There are things you can do to reduce your risk for heart disease. Learning about the ABCs of diabetes can help you control your condition and stay healthy.

What are the ABCs of diabetes?

A stands for the A1c test. This test measures your blood sugar over the past three months. It is the best way to know if your blood sugar is under control. Ask your doctor for an A1c test at least two times a year. Get the test more often if your blood sugar stays too high or if your doctor changes your treatment plan. The A1c goal for people with diabetes is below 7 percent.

B stands for blood pressure. High blood pressure makes your heart work too hard. Your doctor should take your blood pressure at every office visit. The blood pressure goal for people with diabetes is below 130 over 80 (this is the same as 130/80 mm Hg).

C stands for cholesterol. “Bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL, for short) cholesterol, builds up and clogs your arteries. Ask your doctor to check your cholesterol level at least once a year. The LDL cholesterol goal for people with diabetes is below 100 milligrams per deciliter (100 mg per dL).

What can I do to reduce my risk for heart disease?

  • Ask your doctor what your ABC numbers are and what you can do to reach your target ABC numbers.

  • Exercise every day.

  • Eat less fat and salt.

  • Eat more fiber: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans.

  • Stay at a healthy weight.

  • If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you stop.

  • Take the medicines your doctor prescribes for you.

  • Ask your doctor if you should take aspirin every day.

Where can I learn more about diabetes and heart disease?

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

  • Telephone: 301-592-8573

  • Web

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and KidneyDiseases National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse

  • Telephone: 1-800-860-8747

  • Web

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