Diabetes is a lifelong condition associated with abnormal levels of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. We all need glucose to fuel our bodies and this process is usually helped along by a hormone called insulin. But people with Type 1 diabetes can’t make any insulin at all. Those with Type 2 diabetes can’t make enough insulin or their body doesn’t react to it in the right way. This has a profound impact on their blood glucose levels (1).
How is diabetes linked to stroke?
Over time, high glucose levels in your blood can put strain on organs, such as your heart or eyes. Just like the effects of high cholesterol, this can also damage your blood vessels, making them narrower and more likely to block. If blood flow to the brain is interrupted, this can lead to stroke (2).
How common is stroke in patients with diabetes?
By 2030, the number of people affected by diabetes around the world is estimated to be as high as 439 million (3). Studies show diabetes almost doubles the risk for stroke and over 20% of people with diabetes will die of stroke (4). But, even though Type 1 patients have a higher risk, it is more common in Type 2 patients, representing the clear majority of all diabetic strokes (5).
Can diabetics reduce their risk of stroke?
Diabetes has been identified as one of ten modifiable risk factors for stroke. This means there are certain lifestyle changes and other measures that can be taken to reduce the risk. While Type 1 diabetes often runs in families, Type 2 diabetes is preventable, as it is often a result of poor diet and obesity, especially in developed nations (6).
What are the top symptoms of diabetes?
It’s not always easy to know if you have diabetes, as it can develop over many years, and you may not have any obvious symptoms. A simple test will show if you have too much glucose in your blood, but here are a few early warning signs to watch out for:
1. Feeling very thirsty
2. Urinating more frequently, especially at night
3. Extreme tiredness
4. Weight loss (even though you are eating more) (Type 1)
5. Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush
6. Cuts or wounds that heal slowly
7. Blurred vision
8. Tingling, pain or numbness in the hands/feet (Type 2)
People who have already been diagnosed with diabetes can control its effects by taking medication, if prescribed by their doctor. One study found a 24% reduction in the rate of major stroke events when diabetic patients took a statin (drugs typically prescribed to lower cholesterol) (7).
Making lifestyle changes, such as improving diet, reducing body fat and increasing exercise, have also shown to be beneficial in controlling the level of glucose in the blood. In short, preventing or managing diabetes can lower your risk of stroke.
3. Rong Chen, MD, MS, Bruce Ovbiagele, MD, and Wuwei Feng, MD, MS. Diabetes and Stroke: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, Pharmaceuticals and Outcomes. Am J Med Sci. 2016; 351(4): 380–386.
4. Banerjee C, Moon YP, Paik MC, Rundek T, Mora-McLaughlin C, Vieira JR, Sacco RL, Elkind MS. Duration of diabetes and risk of ischemic stroke: the Northern Manhattan Study. Stroke. 2012;43:1212–1217
5. Janghorbani M, Hu FB, Willett WC, Li TY, Manson JE, Logroscino G, Rexrode KM. Prospective study of type 1 and type 2 diabetes and risk of stroke subtypes: the Nurses’ Health Study. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(7):1730–5
6. American Diabetes Association. [Accessed on August, 2018];National diabetes fact sheet. Available from https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-statistics.jsp.
7. Heart Protection Study Collaborative Group. MRC/BHF Heart Protection Study of cholesterol lowering with simvastatin in 20,536 high-risk individuals: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2002;360:7–22.