Approximately 20.8 million Americans have diabetes. People with diabetes are up to 4 times as likely to have a stroke as someone who does not have the disease, mainly because many people with diabetes have health problems that are also stroke risk factors.
What is diabetes?Diabetes is a disease that affects a person’s ability to move blood sugar, or glucose, out of the blood and into the cells where it is used as the body’s primary source of fuel.
There are 2 types of diabetes, Type I (insulin dependant) and Type II (non-insulin dependent). Type I diabetes usually emerges in childhood and is characterized by the body’s inability to produce enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone the body uses to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
Type II diabetes is more common. More than 90 percent of Americans with diabetes have Type II diabetes. With Type II, the body is able to produce insulin, but tissues develop a resistance to it and blood sugar levels rise above normal. It generally develops during adulthood and may escape notice for some time because many symptoms of the disease frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue, irritability and blurry vision seem harmless.
How is diabetes linked to stroke?Many people with diabetes have health problems that increase their risk for stroke.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor and leading causes of stroke. As many as 2 out of 3 adults with diabetes have high blood pressure.
Heart attack and atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heart beat) are also common among people with diabetes, and both increase the risk for stroke.
Many people with diabetes also have high cholesterol, increasing their risk for stroke. Build-up of LDL cholesterol, sometimes called the “bad” cholesterol, can block blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the brain. Any time blood flow to the brain is decreased, the risk for stroke increases.
Brain damage may be more severe and extensive if blood sugar is high when a stroke happens. Careful regulation of blood sugar, either with insulin or blood sugar-lowering pills, can help.
Being tested for diabetes is quick and easy with the help of a doctor. A doctor's office will collect a blood sample and then check blood sugar levels with a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test. High blood sugar levels may signal diabetes.
Treatments for Diabetes
Both types of diabetes can be controlled, reducing the risk of long-term health problems such as stroke. Type I is treated by closely monitoring blood sugar and taking daily shots of insulin. Type II, which is worsened by obesity, can frequently be controlled through weight loss, exercise and changes in eating habits. Daily insulin injections are not always necessary.
The good news? Stroke risk can be reduced by managing diabetes -- it’s never too late to better manage personal health with a doctor’s help.
Other ways to help manage diabetes:
Foot Care: Inspect feet daily for signs of trouble. Have foot sores or calluses checked by a doctor or podiatrist.
Eye Care: See the eye doctor at least once a year. Diabetes can lead to eye disease, but there are treatments available if problems are caught early.
Dental Care: See the dentist every six months. Excess blood sugar in the mouth makes it a good home for bacteria, which can lead to infection.
Be More Active: Physical activity can lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol; help insulin work more effectively; improve blood circulation; and keep joints flexible.
Eat a Healthy Diet: Eat smaller portions, more fruits and vegetables, and foods that are high in fiber. Also, watch salt, fat and sugar intake.