Your daily choices can lessen — or increase — your heart risk

May 18, 2018 Providence Health Team


In the complex warp and weft of your body, a tug on one part affects another. 

For example, while it may not be obvious, a strong link exists between diabetes, or prediabetes, and the vessels of the heart. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to a heart attack. Not everybody makes the connection.

“A lot of people are surprised,” says Natasha Arora, M.D., a cardiologist at Providence Cardiology Associates in Olympia, Wash. But problems with blood sugar go hand in hand  with heart problems, she says. 

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease puts it plainly: “Having diabetes means that you are more likely to develop heart disease and have a greater chance of a heart attack or a stroke.”

How they’re connected

The link stems from the effects of the high levels of blood sugar that accompany diabetes. It causes “a lot of damage within blood vessels,” says Dr. Arora.

In a healthy body, food is converted to blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, and passes into the bloodstream. The pancreas produces insulin, which helps the body convert the glucose for use as energy.

But when the pancreas can’t generate enough insulin to help the body process the blood sugar, it remains in the bloodstream, doing damage along the way. 

While a minority of people have genetic predispositions to insulin deficiencies, most people are at risk of developing diabetes because of their sedentary lifestyles. In other words, they’re not burning enough calories to maintain a healthy weight.

Getting ahead of heart problems

Dr. Arora has a simple message for those at risk of developing diabetes: Take better care of your body.

This means getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and keeping your weight under control. Your body-mass index, which is derived from your weight and height, can tell you if you’re at a healthy or unhealthy weight. Learn how to use a BMI calculator like this one from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

A body-mass index from 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, or “the first starting point for diabetes,” says Dr. Arora.

A body-mass index greater than that is considered obese. Both classifications, overweight and obese, carry increased risk for a range of health problems. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity risks include stroke, sleep apnea, coronary heart disease, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, unhealthy levels of cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says more than 70 percent of American adults — or more than two in three — are overweight or obese. 

The good news is that people can make lifestyle changes that address these risks before they become full-blown disease. For most, all they have to do is eat better and exercise more.

“I tell all my patients ‘Get out there and keep active,’” says Dr. Arora. 

Providence offers a variety of services including primary care, nutrition and cardiology that can be brought to bear on problems stemming from heart disease, diabetes and related conditions. You can find a Providence provider near you in our online directory.

OR: Providence Heart & Vascular Institute, Providence Diabetes and Health Education Center

Alaska: Providence Heart & Vascular Center

California: Providence Saint John’s Health Center,  Little Company of Mary Medical Center TorranceProvidence Saint Joseph Medical Center

Washington: Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Providence St. Peter Regional Heart Center, Providence Spokane Heart Institute

Montana: International Heart Institute

Kadlec: Kadlec Regional Medical Center



This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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