It’s tempting to think of type 2 diabetes as just one health issue. But type 2 diabetes raises your risk for other health problems, including heart disease and stroke. In fact, heart disease and stroke are the two leading causes of death among adults with diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Here’s what you need to know to stay healthy and lower your risk. Understanding the Connection Between Type 2 Diabetes and Stroke When you have diabetes, your body can’t maintain normal blood glucose levels on its own. You might not produce enough of the hormone insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels, or your body may be resistant to the effects of insulin. The result: without medication or other management strategies in place, you end up with higher-than-normal blood sugar levels. Over time, those elevated blood sugar levels can damage many of your blood vessels. It can cause your blood vessels to narrow, which can make it harder for your heart to effectively pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. If a blood vessel leading to your brain is too narrow (or gets blocked) for blood to pass through, it can lead to a stroke. Weakened blood vessels that burst or rupture can also cause strokes. Know the Risk Factors Type 2 diabetes isn’t the only factor that can boost your risk of having a stroke. A few other factors play a role: Your blood pressure. Your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body when you have high blood pressure. This process puts a lot of strain on your blood vessels, which can boost your risk of stroke. Your cholesterol levels. If you have high levels of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, it’s a risk factor for stroke. Your weight. If you are obese or overweight, those extra pounds can make it harder for you to manage your diabetes and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to struggle with these issues than people without diabetes. That puts them at risk. Unfortunately, a family history of heart disease is a risk factor that you can’t control. But if you know of a family member who’s suffered a stroke, a heart attack or had some other type of heart condition, it’s worth knowing because it can help you and your doctor be more vigilant. Decrease Your Risk of Stroke What can you do to lower your chances of having a stroke? Fortunately, you’ve got options. First, carefully manage your A1C. It’s important to keep track of your blood glucose levels on a daily basis, but it’s just as important to monitor your blood glucose levels over time. The A1C paints a picture of your average blood glucose levels over the past three months. By keeping your A1C in your target range, you’re keeping your blood glucose levels from getting too high and potentially harming your blood vessels and your heart. Additionally, address your blood pressure and cholesterol. Check with your doctor to determine if your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are in the healthy range, and if they’re not, talk about a plan, which may include medication, to address the issue. Keeping them at healthy levels is good for your heart. So is stopping smoking. Your blood vessels are already at risk for narrowing because of your type 2 diabetes, and smoking makes it worse. It ratchets up your risk for developing cardiovascular disease, as well as a whole host of lung disease, including cancer. And don’t forget about exercise! It’s time to commit to a regular exercise routine. Three days a week (or more) of at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise will do wonders for your body in so many ways. It will help you manage your weight, and improve your cardiovascular health, which will lower your risk of stroke. Lastly, eat a healthy diet. In general, a diet that’s high in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low on added sugars and salts is a good place to start. Choose heart-healthy items like olive oil, legumes, pecans, and fish that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, and opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Say no to processed meats, which are often high in sodium. Your doctor or diabetes educator can talk to you about your specific dietary needs and goals, like being mindful of the types and amount of carbohydrates you consume. Learn About the Signs of Stroke Hopefully you’ll never need to put this knowledge into action, but your risk profile means it’s still important to know the signs of an impending stroke so you can seek emergency care away. The easiest way to remember the key signs of a stroke is the word FAST. F: Face drooping A: Arm weakness S: Speech difficulty T: Time to call 911 Sometimes other symptoms will develop too, like confusion, dizziness, or blurred vision. The bottom line is this: don’t wait if you suspect you may be experiencing the early stages of a stroke. Getting treated quickly will give you the best chance of a full recovery.