How Diabetes and Stroke Risk Can Be Reduced With Simple Lifestyle Change
It should come as no secret to you that having diabetes means you’re at higher risk for some health complications, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease), and diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage).
One of the more serious complications associated with diabetes mellitus is having a stroke. In fact, every two minutes an American adult with diabetes is hospitalized for a stroke, and people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience a stroke as those without the disease.
It’s clear that the risk is there and it’s certainly nothing to shrug off. But diabetes is also not an automatic determinant you’ll have a stroke. In fact, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) is quick to point out that not everyone who is living with diabetes will have a stroke. More importantly, the ADA notes that there are important steps you can take to help minimize your individual risk.
In this post, we’ll examine the connection between diabetes and strokes to, hopefully, give you a greater understanding of the link between the two.
What causes a stroke?
A stroke happens when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted, usually by a blockage or a rupture in the blood vessels leading to the brain. This means the brain, which requires a lot of oxygen-rich blood to function properly, finds itself starved for this oxygen. This damages the brain tissue irreparably and, thereby, can result in serious physical and mental complications. Some of the more common long-term effects of a stroke include:
- Difficulty speaking
- Numbness or paralysis in specific parts of the body
- Memory loss
- Problems managing or expressing emotions
- Cognitive deterioration (trouble thinking, learning, or making judgments)
How does diabetes cause a stroke?
Diabetes prevents the body from properly processing blood sugar and turning it into energy. This happens due to an inability to produce or properly use the hormone insulin, which is produced in the pancreas and is responsible for helping the body’s cells absorb blood sugar.
In cases of Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, the body is unable to produce any insulin. When a person has Type 2 diabetes, that individual can produce some insulin but it’s either not enough or the body is unable to use it effectively to process blood sugar.
Either way, the end result is the same – a rise in blood sugar, which, if left unchecked or not properly treated can result in a dangerously high blood sugar level. Over time, elevated blood sugar can cause fatty deposits or clots to develop inside the blood vessels. Sometimes, these are the blood vessels that lead to the brain (often in the neck). When the blockage develops to the point the brain is no longer getting the oxygen it needs to do its job, it leads to a stroke.
Additionally, those with Type 2 diabetes often have other health problems that are linked to diabetes but can also increase the risk of stroke, including obesity and excessive belly fat (men with waists of more than 40 inches and women with waists of more than 35 inches), heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. When you combine these risk factors together with elevated blood sugar, it’s easy to see how living with diabetes can elevate the risk of stroke.
How do I know I’m having a diabetes-related stroke?
Whether a stroke is related to high blood sugar or not, the symptoms are the same. You might experience weakness or numbness on one side of the body. You might experience sudden dizziness and trouble walking. You might feel unusually confused or even have difficulty speaking. Some people experience double vision and severe headaches, while in others the signs of stroke impact vision causing difficulty in seeing out of one or both eyes.
The American Stroke Association has a clever mnemonic device to help people remember the core symptoms of a stroke – F.A.S.T. – which stands for Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulty, Time to dial 911!
If you experience any of the warning signs of a stroke, it is vital that you get emergency medical care right away. The sooner a stroke is treated, the greater the chances are of minimizing or even preventing permanent long-term damage to the brain.
Can I avoid a stroke?
There are no guarantees in terms of being able to avoid a stroke, however, as someone living with diabetes, keeping your blood sugar under control is a huge first step. As we pointed out earlier, prolonged periods of high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels leading to the brain, leading to a stroke. So, the better you’re able to manage your diabetes, the less likely you are to have a stroke. To this end, it’s important to:
Eat Right – consume a diabetes-healthy diet that limits carbohydrates and fats, while providing the nutrients your body requires. Choose leafy greens, lean proteins, healthy fibers, and fresh fruits.
Exercise – the American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week to help control weight and maintain proper blood sugar control. Even something as simple as walking can make it easier to keep blood sugar within your target range.
Testing & Treatment – Test your blood sugar regularly, whether that’s with a glucose meter and test strips, or a doctor-prescribed continuous glucose monitoring device. Also, adhere to your doctor-prescribed treatment and medication schedule, including administering insulin via a syringe, pen, or an insulin pump. If you find yourself experiencing frequent highs (or lows) or have difficulty bringing your blood sugar back into the normal range, speak with your diabetes physician. Often a simple tweak to your diabetes management program can help you regain control and it is very problematic to live with out-of-control blood sugar over the long term. Not only does this increase your risk of stroke, but also of many other diabetes-related health concerns, including heart disease and kidney disease.
While living with diabetes is a lot easier today than it has ever been thanks to great strides in diabetes medicine, it is still a disease that poses some important health concerns. Stroke is one of the more serious diabetes-related health complications and one that piggybacks off other common diabetes-related conditions, such as being overweight. On the plus side, by taking the necessary steps and making the right decisions each day that you need to live your best life with diabetes, you are automatically reducing your risk of stroke.
There’s no reason to dwell on it. But there is every reason to make sure your personal risk is as low as possible. If you’re doing that, then keep up the good work. If you’re not, please see your doctor to create a diabetes management program that works for you.