If you’ve ever played the game Mousetrap, then you know that one wrong move can set off a chain reaction that gets you into big trouble. If your diabetes is mismanaged, then you might be setting off a similar chain reaction of events such as hypertension (high blood pressure), which can lead to heart disease and peripheral neuropathy. In fact, two-thirds of people with type 2 diabetes experience hypertension.
If you never understood the two numbers that represent blood pressure, the top number is the systolic pressure, which refers to the pressure in the heart as it contracts to push blood out to your body; the bottom number is diastolic pressure, referring to the pressure when the heart is relaxing between pumps.
Normal blood pressure measures around 120/80. Hypertension begins when your measurement is always over 140 systolic and/or over 90 diastolic. If your blood pressure elevates above 180/120, you are in a hypertensive crisis and need to seek emergency medical care. The possibility of a stroke or even death is imminent if the pressure isn’t lowered quickly.
Hypertension and diabetes have many of the same risk factors, and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) in 2015 concluded that having high blood pressure leaves you at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Similarly, diabetes leaves unprocessed insulin in the bloodstream where it creates blockages in blood vessels (often in your heart) and damages your kidneys, which are vital organs in maintaining healthy blood pressure. This means diabetic patients are twice as likely to develop hypertension as compared to non-diabetics.
Hypertension is also strongly associated with cardiovascular diseases including:
• Peripheral artery disease (which can lead to gangrene leading to possible amputation of toes/foot)
• Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
• Angina (painful spasms of the heart)
Heart-related issues are the leading cause of death for people with diabetes. According to John Hopkins, people with both diabetes and high blood pressure are at four times greater risk for developing heart disease. Maintaining healthy blood pressure is just as important as controlling blood sugar levels in proper diabetes management to avoid these devastating cardiovascular issues.
Luckily, many of the same lifestyle changes that help control diabetes will also help control high blood pressure. This includes managing blood sugar levels, smoking cessation, eating healthy — including lowering salt (listed as sodium on food labels), exercising at least 75 minutes per week, maintaining a healthy body weight, and refraining from excessive alcohol intake. It’s critical to see your physician regularly and monitor your own blood pressure at home between visits.
Don’t let yourself get caught in the trap! You can break these links and stop the chain of events that could lead to an early death and/or debilitation. Many of us plan to enjoy our retirement years when we have more time to spend with family and develop new interests and past times. To get there means taking control of your health today! You can start by making small incremental changes that lead over time to a big change in your future health. Be sure to utilize the support of your medical team to help you achieve your long-term goals.
Dr. Jane Graebner is founder of the Foot and Ankle Wellness Center in Delaware. She is a practicing podiatrist of 40 years and president of the Delaware County Diabetes Association.