Tens of millions of Americans are living with diabetes, but a recent poll about how many of those patients recognize — and don’t recognize — other associated health risks have caught the eye of diabetes and heart-health advocates and sparked a new partnership.
Under a new initiative dubbed “Know Diabetes by Heart,” the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association are partnering to reduce cardiovascular deaths, heart attacks and strokes in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Those living with diabetes are twice as likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease. But a recent online survey by The Harris Poll showed that, of Type 2 diabetes patients ages 45 and older, only about half recognize their risk or have spoken with their doctor about it.
“That was a really big finding for us,” said Alice Luce, vice president of community health for the American Heart Association in Columbus. “We felt that comprehensively, we could really combat this, but going at it together to raise awareness.”
As part of the initiative, patients can take advantage of the Know Diabetes by Heart website, where they can take a quiz about the links between diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Other online resources include expert question and answer sessions, fact sheets, infographics and discussion guides with questions for patients to ask their doctors.
For example, they can consider asking their doctor:
• Do you think I’m at risk for a heart attack or stroke?
• What can I do to help prevent a heart attack or stroke?
• How will I know if what I’m doing is making a difference?
For health care providers, the initiative offers the latest diabetes guidelines and resources, webinars, a podcast series and a risk calculator to help better calculate patients’ risk for heart disease and stroke.
“It’s really a comprehensive approach on both the patient and health care professional’s side,” said Dr. Joshua Joseph, a diabetes physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
“The information, the research, the studies, the proof, is out there,” said Brenda Rendelman, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietician in the wellness department at LifeCare Alliance. “But it’s like any message … the info has to be spread to the public at large.”
People with Type 2 diabetes often demonstrate the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and a lack of physical activity, according to information from the American Heart and American Diabetes associations. And, the longer someone lives with diabetes, the higher the risk for cardiovascular disease. At age 60, someone with Type 2 diabetes and a history of heart attacks or strokes may have a life expectancy that is 12 years shorter than someone without those conditions, according to the two associations.
Joseph suspects his patients aren’t always aware of their risk for cardiovascular disease because they are occupied with other elements of having diabetes.
“It’s an awareness (issue),” said Joseph, whose research focuses on risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “When you have diabetes, what I see from my patients, is they’re very focused on getting the sugars under control.”
Rendelman said, “Sometimes people think, ‘Well OK, I’ve got diabetes, but I’ve got other things I have to take care of. I don’t have time to deal with all that.’
“When people hear the words heart attack and stroke — because everybody knows how debilitating that can be — that gets people’s attention,” she added.
Nationally, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As someone living with type 2 diabetes, I empathize with the denial, worry, fear and even frustration that can accompany a diabetes diagnosis and the daily management of the disease,” Tracey D. Brown, chief executive officer of the American Diabetes Association, said in a statement announcing the initiative late last year. “It’s critical that we wake people up to the realities and deadly complications of diabetes, especially heart disease. Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is vital to improving the quality and length of life for every individual living with type 2 diabetes.”
In Franklin County, about 11 percent of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the 2017 Franklin County Community Health Assessment. That figure is on par with state diabetes numbers. In Columbus alone, about 12.5 percent of adults have been told they have diabetes.
“This has an enormous impact on our community,” Joseph said.
The good news is that diabetes patients can take steps to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Diabetes patients should focus on making healthy dietary choices and getting physical activity — at least 150 minutes each week, Joseph said. They also need to monitor and control their blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol, he said, as well as their weight.
It’s also very important not to smoke, he said.
“We need to try to, as much as we can, keep people healthy,” Joseph said. “These lifestyle behaviors are so critical to really remaining healthy over the course of someone’s life.”
In addition to providing patients and doctors with resources, a big part of the Know Diabetes by Heart initiative focuses on simply increasing awareness.
“A big part of this campaign is that we really just wanted people to start a conversation about this,” Luce said.