Type 1 diabetes linked to heart disease

Heart disease is the No. 1 leading cause of death among women in the U.S and the risks are greater for people with Type 1 diabetes.

Carson Daly and his sister, Quinn Daly , have been personally affected by the disease: They unexpectedly lost their mother Pattie Daly Caruso, who had juvenile onset diabetes, to a heart attack in 2017. For American Heart Month , they honored Pattie by raising awareness about the link between the two deadly conditions.

"We were so focused on my mom’s erratic blood sugar levels and hyperglycemic events, we never thought of taking an extra look at her heart," Carson said. "We thought we were on top of it."

Diabetes is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease . But Carson’s mother Pattie had no obvious heart symptoms.

"She had no problem with high blood pressure, no problems with eyesight, no obesity," Carson said.

Carson spoke with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres Friday about the need for families affected by Type 1 diabetes to understand the risks. What is the link between Type 1 diabetes and heart disease? Why is it so deadly?

The reasons this occurs are still unknown, but diabetes causes an increase in the amount of glucose in the blood. When there’s too much glucose in the blood, especially for prolonged periods, all the organ systems in the body suffer long-term damage, especially the heart.

Type 1 diabetics tend to have a harder time controlling blood sugar for a longer period of time, so they are at especially high risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes. For people with diabetes, what can be done to protect the heart?

Keeping blood glucose levels as close to the goal range as possible can prevent long-term diabetes complications such as eye damage, kidney damage, nerve damage, heart attacks and strokes. This is achieved through eating a low-sugar diet, exercise and taking insulin.

There have been significant advances in understanding the link between Type 1 diabetes and heart disease in just the last few years. New studies are helping doctors and researchers understand how Type 1 is unique in its impact on heart disease, giving hope that patients will eventually have new treatments tailored to them. Why don’t doctors warn about the risks of dying from heart disease for people with Type 1 diabetes?

It’s likely that Pattie was seen by multiple doctors over her life. She was treated for cancer, diabetes and she had children. There were a few good opportunities to talk about heart disease and diabetes. There are starting to be medical specialties that combine care for patients with multiple conditions, but the coordination between doctors isn’t there yet.

The message for families and patients is for them to take control of the heart disease conversation. Ask your doctor: ‘What’s my risk of heart disease?’ Why is Type 1 diabetes more dangerous than Type 2?

One theory is the immune system has gone haywire in Type 1 diabetics. The body’s immune system that is designed to attack invaders might turn on us and instead attack the heart the same way it has attacked the cells in our pancreas that produce insulin.

To make matters worse, heart attack symptoms or even the first heart attack in Type 1 diabetics might go unnoticed. This is due to a condition called neuropathy, where high blood sugar levels cause small nerves throughout our body to stop working.

It’s called a "silent heart attack." The damage is enough to prompt an immune response that could cause much more serious damage later on. For people with a Type 1 diabetic in their lives, what do they need to know now?

It is important to have frequent check-ins with the doctor. The risk for heart complications is greater in those with early onset diabetes, so it’s important to identify the problem as early as possible and to set blood sugar and lifestyle goals with the doctor.

For anyone with Type 1 diabetes, controlling additional risk factors is important. Never use tobacco.

Exercise or be physically active every day. Most exercise guidelines recommend at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise every week, or 30 minutes, five days a week.

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