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Stroke Smart Magazine

May/June 2007

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Diabetes 101

By Katie Parker

If you have diabetes, you may be surprised to learn that you are twice as likely to have a stroke compared to someone who does not have the disease.

How does diabetes raise stroke risk? Diabetes can damage your blood vessels, including the arteries that supply blood to your brain. This damage makes it easier for fatty deposits, or plaque, to form in the arteries. This build-up of plaque can reduce or cut off blood supply. Any time you decrease blood flow to the brain, you increase your risk for stroke.

The same problems that raise your stroke risk also increase your risk for diabetes: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight, smoking and not exercising. Working on these areas can help you prevent diabetes and stroke.

Don't underestimate the impact of small changes. A study of nearly 10,000 people showed that 30 minutes of exercise a day, and a 10- to 15-pound weight loss, reduced new diabetes cases by over 58 percent, according to Dr. Larry Deeb, an elected officer of the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Many people are unaware they have the disease because the symptoms they have seem harmless. Diabetes symptoms can include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue, irritability and blurry vision. If you have these early signs of diabetes, ask your doctor to test you for it.

With diabetes, the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone used to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. People with diabetes have a higher level of blood sugar because their bodies are not breaking down the sugar.

Being tested for diabetes is quick and easy. Your doctor's office will collect a blood sample and then check your blood sugar levels with a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test. High levels may signal diabetes.

According to Deeb, the top three concerns for a diabetic are “blood sugar, blood sugar, blood sugar.” Eating the right foods and increasing physical activity can help you manage this concern. You also may need to get injections of insulin or take medicine to achieve this goal.

These things can help not only with managing the diabetes, but also with reducing stroke risk. It is also important to manage blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In fact, the better you manage your numbers, the better your chances of preventing a stroke.

The good news? It's never too late to take control of your health. By preventing or managing diabetes, you can reduce your risk for stroke.


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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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