Don't put off your diabetes and blood pressure screenings

Did you know the leading cause of death around the world is heart disease? And did you know that a person with both diabetes and high blood pressure is four times more likely to develop heart disease than someone without these illnesses? Both conditions are serious health risks and contribute to many illnesses and complications, in addition to heart disease.

That’s why it’s important to know your blood pressure numbers and the symptoms of diabetes. Getting checkups early can help prevent or manage both diseases, which can also help you keep your heart healthy and avoid a stroke.

Double threat to arteries

To understand why high blood pressure and diabetes contribute to heart disease and other illnesses, look to the arteries. Both conditions cause damage, greatly reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to organs and limbs. Diabetes delivers high amounts of blood sugar into the bloodstream causing inflammation in the artery walls. High blood pressure narrows and hardens artery walls that are normally flexible, strong and elastic.

When the heart has to work harder to circulate blood through damaged and restricted arteries, it not only damages the heart, but other organs suffer as well.

“Diabetes causes many problems in the body but the leading cause of death is heart attack and heart failure caused by blockage of the arteries and lack of blood flow,” said Dr. Daniel A. Eisenberg, a cardiologist at Providence Medical Institute in Burbank.

“Add to that high blood pressure that causes injury to the inside of the arteries over a lifetime. If you have high blood pressure and diabetes together, these are happening silently as you grow up. By the time you’re 18 or 20 years old, you may have significant blockage but you don’t know it.”

That’s why Dr. Eisenberg recommends that parents pay close attention to their kids’ cholesterol levels and blood pressure starting in their teens. He also emphasizes the importance of regular checkups for adults. “Take it as seriously as you take your car maintenance,” he said. “You’re better off checking in with your doctor once or two times a year to see if your body is functioning well.”

Know your blood pressure numbers

A healthy blood pressure is one that rises and falls within normal levels throughout the day, from the moment you wake until you return to bed. However, if your blood pressure remains consistently above normal throughout the day, you may have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers: Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats; and diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. A health care provider will take your blood pressure using a cuff around your arm.

If your blood pressure measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, it would appear in writing as “120/80 mmHg” (120 over 80).

Sometimes high blood pressure doesn’t have recognizable symptoms. That’s why you should have an idea of what your blood pressure is, just as you know your height and weight. Here are the numbers that tell you if you have normal blood pressure, or are in the high blood pressure range:

  • Healthy blood pressure is below 120/80
  • Early high blood pressure is between 120/80 and 140/90
  • High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher

Regular checkups and screenings can identify risk factors related to high blood pressure and give you a baseline to help you prevent the condition.

Take care of high blood pressure

If you have high blood pressure there are a number of ways you can help lower it. Start by working with your health care provider on a treatment that works for you, which may include medication. Also consider:

  • Eating a nutritious diet that includes wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Trying herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Choosing foods with less than 400 mg of sodium per serving
  • Losing weight or taking steps to prevent weight gain
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Quitting smoking

Get screened for diabetes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 122 million Americans are living with diabetes or prediabetes, this includes Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Many people may not know they have the disease because symptoms can develop slowly over time.

Diabetes affects how the body turns food into energy. Normally, most food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into the bloodstream. When your pancreas receives the signal, it produces insulin, the gatekeeper for allowing blood sugar into your cells to be used as energy.

In Type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t produce insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin as well as it should. The result is too little or too much blood sugar in the blood stream. This condition can develop into serious health issues, such as heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Diabetes can also contribute to high blood pressure – the double-threat to healthy arteries.

Symptoms of diabetes

Make an appointment with your doctor to get a simple blood test if you have the following symptoms:

  • Urinate a lot, often at night
  • Feel very thirsty
  • Lose weight without trying
  • Feel very hungry
  • Have blurry vision
  • Have numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Feel very tired
  • Have very dry skin
  • Have sores that heal slowly
  • Have more infections than usual

Talk to your doctor

Being aware of your health risks is good advice for everyone – whether you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition, are at risk, or feeling fit. Make an appointment with your doctor for a checkup and screenings.

Resources

We offer a range of education and support resources to help you navigate the challenges diabetes and high blood pressure can present in your life. Learn about the resources available to you in your area, or find a provider.

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About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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