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Take Charge of Your Diabetes

Image of the body's circulatory system.
You can do a lot to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy.

Heart and blood vessel problems are the main causes of sickness and death among people with diabetes. These problems can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. Heart and blood vessel problems can also cause poor circulation (blood flow) in the legs and feet.

You’re more likely to have heart and blood vessel problems if you smoke cigarettes, have high blood pressure, or have too much cholesterol or other fats in your blood. Talk with your health care team about what you can do to lower your risk for heart and blood vessel problems. Ask about taking a daily aspirin to help prevent heart and blood vessel problems.



Signs of Heart and Blood Vessel Problems

If you feel dizzy, have sudden loss of sight, slur your speech, or feel numb or weak in one arm or leg, you may be having serious heart and blood vessel problems. Your blood may not be getting to your brain as well as it should.

Danger signs of circulation problems to the heart include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, swollen ankles, or irregular heartbeats. If you have any of these signs, go to an emergency room or call your health care provider right away.

Signs of circulation problems to your legs are pain or cramping in your buttocks, thighs, or calves during physical activity. Even if this pain goes away with rest, report it to your health care provider.

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Preventing and Controlling Heart and Blood Vessel Problems

Eat Right and Get Physical Activity

Image of a dietition speaking with a woman.
If you're overweight, talk with your dietitian about how to safely lose weight.

Choose a healthy diet, low in salt. Work with a dietitian to plan healthy meals. If you’re overweight, talk about how to safely lose weight. Ask about a physical activity or exercise program for you. See A Few Things About Food to read more about healthy choices for food and physical activity.

Don't Use Tobacco

Smoking cigarettes causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. When you have diabetes and also use tobacco, the risk of heart and blood vessel problems is even greater. One of the best choices you can make for your health is to never start smoking—or if you smoke, to quit.Image of a no smoking symbol.

Not smoking is the healthiest choice you'll make for your heart.


At least once a year, your health care provider will ask you about tobacco use. If you smoke, talk to your provider about ways to help you stop.

Check Your Blood Pressure

Get your blood pressure checked at each visit. Record these numbers on the record sheets. If your blood pressure is higher than 130/80, ask what steps to take to reach your goal.

If your blood pressure is still high after 3 months, you may need medicine to help control it. Many medicines are available to treat high blood pressure. If you have side effects from the medicine, ask your health care provider to change it. Talk to your health care team about whether you need medicine to take charge of your blood pressure.

Check Your Cholesterol

Get your cholesterol checked once a year. Record the results in the records section. Your total cholesterol should be lower than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). Ask your health care team to explain what your HDL and LDL levels are.

Image of fruit in a bowl.
Choose heart-healthy foods for your meal plan.

If your cholesterol is higher than 200 mg/dL on two or more checks, you can do several things to lower it. You can work with your health care team to improve your blood glucose control, you can lose weight (if you’re overweight), and you can cut down on foods that are high in fat and cholesterol. Ask your health care team about foods that are low in fats. Also ask about a physical activity program.

Ask your health care provider what steps to take to reach your LDL cholesterol goal. You may need a medicine to help control it. Ask if you need aspirin to prevent heart attack or stroke.

Ask If You Need an Electrocardiogram (EKG)

If you’re having heart and blood circulation problems, an EKG may help you and your health care provider know if you need to change your treatment.

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