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Keeping Your Heart and Blood Vessels Healthy

Too much sugar in the blood for a long time causes diabetes problems. This high blood sugar can damage many parts of the body, such as the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. Diabetes problems can be scary, but there is a lot you can do to prevent them or slow them down.

This article is about heart and blood vessel problems caused by diabetes. You will learn the things you can do each day and during the year to stay healthy and prevent diabetes problems.

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What should I do each day to stay healthy with diabetes?

Follow the healthy eating plan that you and your doctor or dietitian have worked out. Eat your meals and snacks at around the same times each day.
Be active a total of 30 minutes most days. Ask your doctor what activities are best for you.
Take your diabetes medicine at the same times each day.
Check your blood sugar every day. Each time you check your blood sugar, write the number in your record book. Call your doctor if your numbers are too high or too low for 2 to 3 days.
Check your feet every day for cuts, blisters, sores, swelling, redness, or sore toenails.
Brush and floss your teeth and gums every day.
Don't smoke.


What do my heart and blood vessels do?

Your heart and blood vessels make up your circulatory (SIR-kyoo-la-TOR-ee) system. Your heart is a big muscle that pumps blood through your body.

Your heart pumps blood carrying oxygen to large blood vessels, called arteries (AR-ter-eez), and small blood vessels, called capillaries (KAP-ih-lair-eez). Other blood vessels, called veins, carry blood back to the heart.


What damages my heart and blood vessels?


What can I do to prevent heart and blood vessel problems?


How do my blood vessels get clogged?

Several things, including having diabetes, can increase your blood cholesterol too much. Cholesterol is a substance that is made by the body and used for many important functions. It is also found in some animal foods we eat. When cholesterol is too high, the insides of large blood vessels become clogged and narrowed. This problem is called atherosclerosis (ATH-uh-row-skluh-RO-sis).

Clogged and narrowed blood vessels make it harder for enough healthy blood to get to all parts of your body. This can cause one or more problems.

Healthy Blood Vessel



Clogged and Narrowed Blood Vessel





What heart problems can unhealthy blood vessels cause?

When arteries become clogged and narrowed, you may have one or more heart problems:


How does heart disease cause high blood pressure?

Clogged and narrowed blood vessels leave a smaller opening for blood to flow through. It is like turning on a garden hose and holding your thumb over the opening. The smaller opening makes the water shoot out with more pressure. In the same way, narrowed blood vessels lead to high blood pressure. Other factors, such as kidney problems and being overweight, also can lead to high blood pressure.

Diabetes and high blood pressure often go hand-in-hand. If you have heart, eye, or kidney problems from diabetes, high blood pressure can make them worse.

High Pressure

Low Pressure

A smaller opening makes the water pressure higher. In the same way, clogged blood vessels lead to high blood pressure.

You will see your blood pressure written with two numbers separated by a slash. For example: 120/70. Keep your first number below 130 and your second number below 85.

If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor how to lower it. Your doctor may ask you to take an ACE inhibitor. This type of blood pressure medicine is best for people with diabetes who have kidney problems because it helps keep the kidneys healthy.

To lower your blood pressure, your doctor may also ask you to lose weight; eat more fruits and vegetables; eat less salt and high-sodium foods such as canned soups, luncheon meats, salty snack foods, and fast foods; and drink less alcohol.

To lower blood pressure, get to a healthy weight.


What are the warning signs of a stroke?

A stroke happens when part of your brain is not getting enough blood and stops working. Depending on the part of the brain that is damaged, a stroke can cause

Sometimes, one or more of these warning signs may happen and then disappear. You might be having a "mini-stroke," also called a TIA (transient [TRAN-see-unt] ischemic [is-KEE-mik] attack). If you have any of these warning signs, tell your doctor right away.


How can clogged blood vessels hurt my legs and feet?

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Peripheral vascular (puh-RIF-uh-rul VASK-yoo-ler) disease can happen when the openings in your blood vessels become narrow and not enough blood gets to your legs and feet. You may feel pain in your buttocks, the back of your legs, or your thighs when you stand, walk, or exercise.


What can I do to prevent or control peripheral vascular disease?

You also may need surgery to treat this problem.


Which medical tests will help me keep track of any heart or blood vessel problems?

If your numbers are not normal, ask your doctor if you should take medicine to make them normal.


For more information

Diabetes Teachers (nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, and other health professionals). To find a diabetes teacher near you, call the American Association of Diabetes Educators toll-free at 1-800-TEAMUP4 (1-800-832-6874).

Recognized Diabetes Education Programs. (teaching programs approved by the American Diabetes Association). To find a program near you, call toll-free at 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383).

Dietitians. To find a dietitian near you, call the American Dietetic Association's National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics toll-free at 1-800-366-1655.

Government. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is part of the National Institutes of Health. To learn more about heart and blood vessel problems, write or call NHLBI Information Center, P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105, (301) 592-8573.


NIDDK