A diabetes diagnosis carries with it a higher risk of other health problems including diabetic kidney disease, retinal disease, neuropathy, and heart and blood vessel disease. Surprisingly, even young diabetics can have early signs of diabetic complications. According to a recent study, a surprisingly high percentage of diabetics under the age of forty already have documented heart disease.
The Problem of Young Diabetics with Coronary Disease
When researchers performed coronary artery CT scans on 3,711 people under the age of forty – some with diabetes and some without – they found that a whopping sixty-six percent of young diabetics had evidence of coronary artery disease – a four times greater rate than in the non-diabetics. Because of these findings, some experts are now recommending that young diabetics be started on statin drugs before the age of forty – to reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack.
Why Does Being Diagnosed with Diabetes Increase the Risk of Heart Disease?
Even young diabetics can have changes in their arteries – including chronic inflammation and thickening – which make it harder for blood to flow through them. With this thickening, the heart has to pump harder which causes it to enlarge. Thickened, narrowed blood vessels also raise the risk of hypertension – another risk factor for heart disease. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in people diagnosed with diabetes.
Should Young Diabetics Take Statin Medications?
Statins are usually recommended by doctors for diabetics over the age of forty, but the large number of young diabetics with coronary disease could call for beginning statins at an earlier age. Unfortunately, not everyone tolerates statin medications well – with some statin users experiencing muscle aches and elevation in liver enzymes.
Short of Statins, How Can Young Diabetics Reduce Their Risk of Heart Disease?
It’s important for any diabetic – young or old – who smokes stop immediately since this only increases damage to the heart and arteries. Although it’s important to keep blood sugars controlled, not all studies show that keeping blood sugars tightly controlled reduces the risk of heart disease. Controlling other risk factors such as high lipid levels and elevated blood pressure is also of critical importance for diabetics. Of course, diet is important. Eating a low fat, Mediterranean diet and getting daily physical activity also helps to delay damage to the heart and blood vessels.
Young Diabetics with Heart Disease: The Bottom Line?
Diabetics of any age should see a doctor regularly and should be screened for heart disease. In some cases, a doctor may recommend statin medications for diabetics – particularly ones who have higher lipid levels. Otherwise, it’s absolutely necessary that other risk factors for heart disease be controlled – to reduce the risk of an early death.
Family Practice News. April 15, 2010. page 12.