Understanding Diabetes and High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a dangerous condition that is common among people with diabetes. In this article, we explore the link between diabetes and high blood pressure and discuss how to prevent it.
How Does Diabetes Affect Blood Pressure?
Research suggests that as many as 67% of diabetics could also have hypertension (high blood pressure).
It is unclear exactly what makes people with diabetes so likely to develop high blood pressure. However, a combination of factors contributes to both conditions:
- Chronic inflammation
- High fat diets
- Physical inactivity
What Are the Risk Factors?
People with diabetes also have a higher-than-average risk of developing atherosclerosis. This means that fatty deposits block the blood vessels, making them narrower. This then raises blood pressure.
Furthermore, some people with diabetes (especially type 1) also suffer from kidney disease, a condition called diabetic nephropathy. Since the kidneys play an essential role in regulating blood pressure, kidney disease can contribute to hypertension.
Other risk factors for diabetes and high blood pressure include:
- Family history
- High cholesterol/triglyceride levels
How High Blood Pressure Can Affect Diabetics
Blood pressure readings consist of two figures referring to systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Systolic and Diastolic Pressure
Systolic means the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart muscle contracts. It is represented by the first number in a blood pressure reading. Diastolic means the blood pressure when the heart muscle relaxes and is represented by the second number.
For example, in a reading of 140/80mmHg, the systolic pressure is 140mmHg and the diastolic pressure is 80mmHg. The abbreviation mmHg stands for millimeters of mercury. Traditional blood pressure meters used mercury to make their measurements. However, most modern monitors are electronic.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Blood Pressure Reading
The figures that experts consider healthy vary between diabetics and non-diabetics. Generally speaking, a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg is considered high. However, for diabetics, a reading of 140/80 mmHg indicates high blood pressure. Note the lower diastolic pressure compared with the example above.
For people with diabetic complications, including nephropathy, neuropathy, or retinopathy, the figure falls further still. For these individuals, a reading of 130/80 mmHg is considered high. It is critical to keep the blood pressure in check to prevent these complications from worsening.
Borderline diabetes, synonymous with prediabetes, is a condition that begins before an individual develops type 2 diabetes.
What Are the Dangers?
As well as increasing the risk of diabetic complications, high blood pressure presents many other dangers for people with diabetes.
When the blood pressure remains high for prolonged periods, it puts additional strain on the heart muscle. It can also damage the blood vessels and lead to poor circulation.
If the heart is working harder than usual and not receiving the blood supply it needs, this can lead to a heart attack.
Hypertension also increases the risk of strokes as the small blood vessels in the brain may burst under increased pressure.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Finally, there appears to be a link between high blood pressure and conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These are conditions that we typically associate with aging. However, high blood pressure could accelerate their development.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
In most cases, high blood pressure does not cause any symptoms. For this reason, some have given it the nickname “the silent killer”.
Therefore, it is important that people with diabetes have their blood pressure checked by a professional at least once a year. Those at high risk may also wish to purchase a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
Extremely high blood pressure can cause:
- Blurred vision
- Shortness of breath
However, these symptoms are relatively rare.
How Can People With Diabetes Prevent High Blood Pressure?
People with diabetes can reduce their risk of high blood pressure with some simple lifestyle adjustments.
Eat More Plant-Based Foods
A healthy diet is one of the best ways to control blood pressure. It is especially important to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, as they contain high levels of nutrients that can help to combat both diabetes and high blood pressure.
Other plant-based foods are also helpful. For example, whole grains, such as oats, quinoa and brown rice, provide many benefits for the heart. Furthermore, plant fats (such as olive oil) tend to be much healthier than animal-derived alternatives, like butter and lard.
Some of the best diets for diabetes and blood pressure include the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. Both advocate increasing plant-based food intake while reducing consumption of red and processed meat.
Reduce Salt Intake
Salt increases blood pressure and should be kept to a minimum. Avoid salty snacks like chips and opt for alternatives like unsalted nuts instead. Cooking from scratch instead of eating ready meals and take-outs is another good way to reduce salt. Season dishes with fresh herbs, spices and pepper instead.
Keep Alcohol to a Minimum
Alcohol is bad news for both high blood pressure and diabetes. It should be kept to a minimum or avoided completely.
Physical inactivity is a primary cause of diabetes and high blood pressure. Therefore, regular exercise is one of the best prevention methods. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, combined with 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise.
Anyone who has not exercised for a while can build up to these targets gradually, starting with a short, brisk walk every day.
Do Not Smoke
Smoking is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Ask a physician or pharmacist for advice on how to kick the habit.
The link between stress, diabetes and high blood pressure is controversial. However, practicing relaxation techniques or finding other ways to manage stress is beneficial for everyone. It may be especially important for those with diabetes and high blood pressure.
If these lifestyle changes are not sufficient, medication may be necessary. They might include medicines or additional diabetes treatments. It is essential to take both of these exactly as prescribed to keep diabetes and high blood pressure under control.