What is the Connection Between Diabetes and Strokes?

April 29,2021 |
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The human body is meant to function in a constant realm of homeostasis. Systems work together to maintain consistent temperatures, balances between nutrients, and optimized functions. However, sometimes things go wrong, such as in the case of a stroke. When someone experiences a stroke, blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted, resulting in damage to the affected brain tissue. The severity of a stroke and resulting damage varies across individuals but can lead to serious changes in the mental state and physical capabilities of a person. There are certain things that raise your risk of experiencing a stroke, one of which is diabetes. Here, we’ll explore the connection between diabetes and strokes and what you can do to live a preventative lifestyle.

Different Kinds of Strokes

There are three primary types of strokes—each classified by the underlying cause and associated damage. They include ischemic strokes, hemorrhagic strokes, and transient ischemic attacks.

  • Ischemic Stroke – these are the most common type of stroke. They occur when an artery to the brain is blocked, often by a blood clot. Ischemic strokes account for about 87% of all strokes.
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke – these occur when an artery in the brain ruptures or leaks blood. They account for roughly 15% of strokes but are responsible for close to 40% of stroke-related deaths.
  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) – also known as a “ministroke,” as they aren’t often as serious and occur for a shorter amount of time. Due to this, many people refer to TIA strokes as a warning stroke.

Information on Diabetes

Our bodies turn food into energy so that our cells can function their best. When glucose is ingested, insulin breaks it down so that the energy can be transported into cells. In people with diabetes, insulin is either lacking or insufficient and glucose begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. This heightens blood sugar levels, which, over time, can cause serious health problems. People living with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin whereas people living with type 2 diabetes either don’t produce enough or have become insulin resistant.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, but show any signs or symptoms of development, talk to your doctor today. While type 1 diabetes is associated more strongly with genetics, type 2 diabetes can develop slowly over time. It often begins as prediabetes, which, when caught early, can be reversed. Your doctor will administer an A1C blood test along with a glucose tolerance test for diagnostics.

How is Diabetes Related to Strokes?

Simply put, living with diabetes increases your risk of experiencing a stroke by 1.5 times. This is likely because people living with diabetes are often plagued with many of the risk factors for stroke due to their condition—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, problems with weight management, and circulation problems. The constant fluctuations in blood sugar levels wreak havoc on the body’s cardiovascular system, which can increase the occurrence of blood clots.

Alarmingly, according to the American Heart Association, 16% of adults over the age of 65 with diabetes die from a stroke and 68% die from some form of heart disease. To reduce your chances for becoming one of these statistics, managing your diabetes and taking other preventative actions are essential.

Risk Factors for a Stroke

Your risk for stroke increases with age. For each decade after the age of 55, risk nearly doubles. Race is also a risk factor—African Americans are disproportionately affected by strokes when compared to Caucasians. Women also experience more strokes than men. Some other risk factors for a stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Circulation problems
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Blood coagulation problems
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Prior history of heart attacks or stroke
  • TIA incidents
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Poor diet and nutrition
  • Diabetes

Having diabetes is a serious risk factor for experiencing a stroke, as its presence increases your risk by 1.5 times regardless of other risk factors. To make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, it’s important to understand both the warning signs of a stroke and how to prevent a stroke from occurring.

Warning Signs of a Stroke

Signs of a stroke develop suddenly and can include the following:

  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
  • Trouble talking
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Trouble walking
  • Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Double vision
  • Severe headache

If you or someone you know see any signs of a stroke, call 911 immediately. The sooner that a stroke is addressed, the better the outlook for damage. By spreading awareness of F.A.S.T. and learning what to do in case of these indicators, you can help save lives.

F: Face drooping

A: Arm weakness

S: Speech difficulty or slurring

T: Time to call 911

How People with Diabetes Can Ward Off a Stroke

Having diabetes doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to experience a stroke at some point in your life. However, it does increase your risks. To make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay healthy, here are some ways people with diabetes can ward off a stroke.

Know Your Numbers

If you’re living with diabetes, ongoing management and care is essential to your wellbeing. To make sure you’re doing everything you can, know your numbers for the ABCs of diabetes: A1C test, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Your A1C test should be below 7% to be considered normal and well managed, your blood pressure should be below 140/90 mm Hg, and your cholesterol should be about 150 mg/dL.

Quit Smoking

Smoking increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, chronic disease, cancer, and many other health conditions. It can have a negative impact on your blood pressure, cholesterol, and even how your body processes glucose. If you smoke, quit. You’ll greatly reduce your chances of experiencing a stroke or other dangerous event. It’s also recommended to avoid vaping, as it takes a toll on your body as well. While there aren’t many long-term studies on the effects of vaping, it’s not worth the risk.

Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

A heart healthy diet is a diet that’s filled with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. It’s low in saturated and trans fat and cholesterol and limits sodium intake. Heart healthy diets are a great way to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other conditions that diabetes can increase your risk for.

Exercise Daily

Living a sedentary lifestyle has been shown to be almost as dangerous as smoking—especially over long periods of time. Your body was meant to move, so schedule time to get up and exercise daily. You don’t have to hit the gym. As long as you’re moving around, you can gradually work to improve your overall health and reduce your risk for a stroke. If you’re going to start a new exercise regimen or program, talk to your doctor.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

The size of your waist has a direct correlation on your risk for diabetes, which increases your chances of having a stroke. For the best long-term success, aim to make healthy lifestyle changes instead of utilizing crash diets or the newest exercise craze. Small changes over time lead to big results.

Reduce Alcohol Intake

While alcohol is heavily ingrained in social life, moderation is essential. Drinking too many alcoholic beverages can lead to problems with your health. It can increase your blood pressure, contribute to obesity, and elevates your risk for stroke, breast cancer, depression, liver disease, and more. Limit alcohol intake to one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Learn to Manage Your Stress

While some stress can be beneficial and act as a motivator, most stress is unnecessary and actually quite harmful. Learn to manage your stress so that you can feel your best mentally, physically, and emotionally. Doing so can reduce cortisol levels and subsequent risks for heart attacks and strokes.

If you’re worried about your risk factors for having a stroke, or need help managing your diabetes, talk to your doctor today. For support, educational materials, and the latest products to make living with diabetes easier, Byram Healthcare is here to help.