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Managing Diabetes: Cholesterol & Cardiovascular Disease


Blood lipids (fats)

Poorly controlled diabetes is often associated with abnormal blood lipid levels. Blood lipids are tiny particles of fat found in the blood. There are several different kinds of blood lipids.

Blood lipids are necessary to maintain good health. They help the body store energy and build strong cells. But when lipid levels are abnormal, these particles of fat can damage the inside of blood vessels and lead to cardiovascular disease. There are four types of lipids you need to know about: cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL. Let's take a quick look at each:

Cholesterol comes from foods of animal origin. It is also produced by your body. The body needs cholesterol to manufacture hormones and other important chemicals. But sometimes, blood levels of cholesterol become too high. This greatly increases the chances of cardiovascular disease. Total cholesterol in the blood should be below 200 mg/dl.

If your blood cholesterol won't go down to healthy ranges with lifestyle changes alone, you may need a prescription medication to lower it. Several highly effective cholesterol-lowering medications are available. Your doctor will help you decide which one is best for you.

Triglyceride is a type of lipid found in many fatty foods. Sugars and alcohol can also raise your triglyceride levels. In the long run, high blood levels of triglycerides can lead to cardiovascular disease. Blood levels greater than 150 mg/dl are considered too high. Keeping your blood glucose levels under control can also help to lower your triglycerides.

HDL is sometimes called "the good cholesterol." It removes cholesterol that has accumulated on the inside of blood vessels and carries it back to the liver for disposal. HDL blood levels should be at least 45 mg/dl for men and 55 mg/dl for women. Exercise can help to raise HDL.

LDL is sometimes called "the bad cholesterol." When levels of LDL cholesterol get too high, the extra cholesterol is deposited on the inside of blood vessel walls. As cholesterol builds up, blood vessels begin to narrow. LDL blood levels for people with diabetes should not be greater than 100mg/dl. A healthy diet can help to lower LDL cholesterol.

Cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke
If not treated, cardiovascular disease can lead to very serious health problems including heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. It can also damage circulation in the legs and feet, leading in some cases to the loss of limbs.

In cardiovascular disease, layers of plaque (fatty build-up) slowly accumulate on the inside of blood vessels throughout the body. The process can go on for many years without any symptoms. Sometimes, blood vessels become so blocked that the parts of the body they supply are starved of blood.

A heart attack happens when a piece of plaque breaks off from the blood vessel wall and sticks in a coronary artery, blocking it completely. This cuts off the blood supply to part of the heart muscle. That part of the heart begins to die. Unless the artery is unblocked very quickly, the result is serious or even fatal heart damage.

Plaque can also break off and block one of the blood vessels that supply the brain. The result is a stroke. Unless the blocked blood vessel is cleared, that part of the brain dies. The result is often serious disability or death. A similar process can damage almost any part of the body, including the kidney and limbs.

Your best defense against heart attack and stroke is to head them off, years before they happen. You can reduce your risk by keeping your blood glucose within healthy ranges. You and your doctor will also need to monitor your blood pressure and blood lipids to make sure they stay within healthy ranges.

Taking an aspirin every day may offer important cardiovascular benefits for some people. But before beginning any aspirin therapy, be sure to discuss with your doctor whether it would be right for you.




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