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Spotlight on stroke in type 2 diabetes: How the risk of these devastating events can potentially be reduced

If you are living with type 2 diabetes, your doctor has probably asked you to make healthy life choices to help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease—and rightly so! If you have read Type 2 diabetes – what's going on in your body?, you will know that if you have type 2 diabetes, your risk of having a stroke or heart attack is up to four times greater compared with someone without type 2 diabetes.

So, making changes in your lifestyle to promote your cardiovascular health is really worth taking seriously. If you have read Is type 2 diabetes putting you at risk of heart disease?, you will know of the connection between type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Continue reading further to build on that knowledge and discuss more on stroke as a vascular disorder.

Vascular disease and Stroke

The medical term for a stroke is a cerebrovascular accident. Cerebro means the brain and we know that vascular means the blood vessels. In this blog post, we want to explain why people with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of suffering a stroke and what can be done to help prevent it from happening, including the role that your diabetes medicine could play.

What happens during a stroke?

Although your brain is about 2% of your body weight, its intense activity means that it consumes about 20% of the oxygen that enters your body.

Brain facts

The brain gets its oxygen and Nutrients from the blood which flows through the blood vessels called Cerebral Vasculature and is protected by a barrier called blood brain barrier.

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is suddenly interrupted, starving the brain of oxygen and resulting in temporary or at times permanent damage to brain cells controlling different functions in our body. Most strokes happen because a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain or neck.

A stroke can have a significant effect on physical and mental health—it can cause movement problems, numbness, and problems with thinking, remembering or speaking and vision disturbances. Some people also experience emotional problems, such as depression, after a stroke.

Unfortunately, when people with diabetes have a stroke, they are at an increased risk of dying or being left with a long-term disability, versus someone without diabetes.

Why does type 2 diabetes increase stroke risk?

Our blog post on Diabetes and heart disease explains that when there is damage to blood vessels, fatty material (sometimes referred to as ‘plaque’) can build up and obstruct the blood flow in a process known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can build up for many years without you knowing—it is a silent disease, and a stroke can happen suddenly, with no warning.  

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels in people with diabetes damage the walls of the blood vessels, thereby speeding up the process of atherosclerosis. People with diabetes also tend to have high levels of the types of fats in their blood that get turned into plaques.

High levels of sugar in the blood also make blood more likely to stick together to form clots. When a clot reaches the brain, it can lead to a stroke. 

Infographic displaying the damage of sugar on blood vessels.

How your self-care helps lower your risk

Some risk factors for stroke can be kept in check by making your lifestyle as healthy as possible. Here are some things that you can do:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is low in cholesterol and salt
  • Stop smoking
  • Only drink alcohol within recommended limits
  • Exercise regularly
  • Try to avoid any inappropriate weight gain

You can read more about lifestyle changes promoting cardiovascular health in this blog post.

Reducing your risk further with help from your diabetes doctor

You might already know about medicines that work to reduce certain risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, like medicines that reduce cholesterol or high blood pressure. If you haven’t had your cholesterol or blood pressure checked in a while, why not make a note to ask your doctor if it’s worth checking that they are under control? 

As someone with type 2 diabetes, even if your diabetes and all of your other risk factors for cardiovascular disease are well-controlled, you may still, unfortunately, have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than the general population. Only 6% of people with type 2 diabetes are thought to be managing this risk well.

Talk to your diabetes doctor to ensure you are on the right treatment to help you manage your risks.

Here’s a guide to help you have a good conversation with your healthcare provider about the current state of your type 2 diabetes with regards to cardiovascular risks.

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