Diabetes and High Blood Pressure: Understanding the Relationship

If you have diabetes, you’re already aware that you have to take special precautions with your blood sugar. But you may not be aware of another, often silent, problem that can go hand-in-hand with diabetes — high blood pressure or hypertension.

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Diabetes and High Blood Pressure Risks

Two-thirds of people with diabetes have the illness, which puts them at twice the risk of heart disease as someone with high blood pressure alone.

Diabetic and hypertensive disorders are inseparable, according to Betul Hatipoglu, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic. In both cases, obesity is a factor that contributes to their prevalence. Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed in nearly half of persons who have high blood pressure.

What Is High Blood Pressure?

Individuals with high blood pressure struggle with blood pumping through their heart and blood vessels with too much force. If this continues for an extended length of time, the high pressure can tire and enlarge the heart muscle.

The average blood pressure for persons with diabetes should be 130/80 or below. As the name implies, the “systolic pressure” refers to the pressure that builds up in your arteries as your heart contracts and fills them with blood during a heartbeat. Diastolic pressure is the second number.

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Healthy people should get their blood pressure checked once every two years. That number increases to four times each year for people living with diabetes. Fortunately, there are free blood pressure screenings available through several Canopy Health alliance affiliates, including John Muir Health.

Risk Factors Associated With Diabetes and High Blood Pressure

Why should those with diabetes be aware of the risks of high blood pressure? Type 2 diabetes is caused by resistance to insulin, the hormone your body needs to use blood sugar for energy. Since the bodies of those with type 2 diabetes resist insulin, sugar builds up in their blood.

“That means your body makes even more insulin, and insulin causes your body to retain salt and fluids, which is one way diabetes increases your risk for high blood pressure,” said Dr. Hatipoglu. “Over time, diabetes damages the small blood vessels in your body, causing the walls of the blood vessels to stiffen. This increases pressure, which leads to high blood pressure.”

The combination of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes can greatly increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Having type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure also increases your chances of developing other diabetes-related diseases, such as kidney disease and retinopathy.

Chronic high blood pressure can also contribute to early onset of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and stroke because the blood vessels in the brain are particularly susceptible to damage due to high blood pressure.

Healthy Tips For Lowering Blood Pressure

Making certain lifestyle changes can not only reduce complications from diabetes but can also greatly reduce your risk of high blood pressure. In fact, lowering your systolic blood pressure by 10 points has been shown to lower all diabetes complication risks by 12 percent overall.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Regularly visit your primary care physician and take advantage of free blood pressure screenings.
  • The American Heart Association recommends either 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity each week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit your salt intake to two grams per day, which is about one teaspoon.
  • Eat a diet with low sugar but plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, healthy fats, and whole grains.
  • Don’t smoke and drink only in moderation.
  • Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can raise blood pressure. Take acetaminophen instead whenever possible.

If you have type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, these lifestyle changes (along with regularly seeing your physician and having your blood pressure screened) can help you get your diabetes and blood pressure under control. The goal is to live well with diabetes and work to prevent complications, and lowering your blood pressure is a critical step.

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