Greene County

Heart disease common among diabetics

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GREENEVILLE, Tenn. - November is Diabetes Awareness Month, but did you know for diabetics it could be their heart that's most dangerous to them?

It was a walk like any other walk for Robin Brown, until she noticed something strange. "I didn't have chest pain, no jaw pain, my elbows hurt; both of my elbows, and they would ache really bad," Brown told News 5 on Monday.

That red flag was a year ago while Brown was on vacation. About a month later symptoms got worse, and Brown found herself in the emergency room, then in the cath lab getting a stent for heart problems. "I had numerous blockages," Brown said.

But it was another test that revealed a new health hurdle: diabetes. "When my AIC levels came back, [the doctor] said evidently I had had it a while and didn't know it," Brown explained.

Dr. Scott Jay with Wellmont's CVA Heart Institute told us the link between diabetes and heart disease isn't a good one. "Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. So, it's one of the accelerators. It's one of the risk factors," said Dr. Jay.

In fact, the American Heart Association reports diabetics are two to four times more likely to have heart disease than people without diabetes, and nearly two-thirds of people with diabetes will die from cardiovascular disease.

"We can treat their infections. They can go on dialysis, we can do these other things, but when it comes to cause of death, it's cardiovascular disease," Dr. Jay said.

When it comes to prevention for both diseases, Dr. Jay told us it's all about lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right.

That's something Brown is now taking to heart. "I've lost 65 pounds in the process which helps tremendously. It takes a lot of stress off your heart," Brown said. "I eat very little salt."

It takes a lot of willpower and work, but Brown said she's got a lot more living to do.

"I have two grown daughters, and I'm not ready to give up," said Brown.

Dr. Jay added that diabetic patients could have different symptoms for heart disease than non-diabetic patients, or they may have no apparent symptoms at all.  

That's why testing and talking with your doctor can help determine how healthy your heart is.

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