When your health-care provider evaluates the results of your tests, he will note not only whether your results fall within a particular reference range, but also any changes in your results since you last had the test done (if, in fact, you have had it done before). An improvement in your results — even if the number is not yet within the reference range — may suggest that a treatment or strategy is working, while no improvement may indicate that a change in treatment is necessary.
Classic CVD risk factors
As mentioned earlier, the biomarkers at the focus of this article are distinct from the classic risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease tends to run in families. Nevertheless, many risk factors can be prevented or minimized. This includes, to some extent, diabetes, since poor blood glucose control is associated with greater cardiovascular risk. High blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels, contributing to atherosclerosis and reduced blood flow to the heart, brain, and limbs.
Chronic high blood pressure affects the majority of people with diabetes. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis and heart disease, and it can also contribute to other blood vessel problems related to diabetes, such as retinopathy (eye disease) and nephropathy (kidney disease).
Having high triglycerides, high total cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol, or low HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good”) cholesterol raises the risk of heart disease. Cholesterol and triglycerides are collectively called blood lipids, and any combination of abnormal lipid levels is called dyslipidemia. People with Type 2 diabetes often have high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and a high level of small, dense LDL cholesterol particles, which are even more harmful than normal LDL cholesterol particles. Being overweight, especially when you carry your weight around your abdomen, is associated with an increase in the body’s production of LDL cholesterol.
Smoking cigarettes doubles your risk of developing heart disease. Smoking leads to the narrowing of the blood vessels and deprives them of oxygen, a vital substance in the circulatory system.
The classic risk factors for heart disease can usually be addressed through lifestyle changes, including choosing healthier foods, controlling portion sizes, and getting regular physical activity. Depending on your health-care provider’s assessment of your level of risk, you may also need one or more drugs to treat each risk factor. If you are a smoker or use tobacco in any other form, talk with your health-care provider about resources to help you quit. (For more tips on preventing CVD, click here.)
Love your heart
When you have diabetes, you are at higher risk for heart disease. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s inevitable. The more information you have about your heart and cardiovascular system, the more informed the choices that you and your health-care provider make will be. By paying close attention to the classic cardiovascular risk factors, and supplementing these results with cardiovascular biomarker tests when appropriate, you and your provider will be making the most of the options available. Do all that you can out of love for your heart. It needs you, and you most definitely need it!