Stroke and diabetes are linked. Without adequate insulin, glucose can build-up in the bloodstream, leading to fatty-deposits which can lead to clotting.

The link between stroke and diabetes

If you have diabetes you are more likely to have a stroke. That fact is frightening, but by keeping careful control of your blood sugars and modifying your lifestyle you can help decrease the danger, protect your body and stay healthy.

Research shows that people with diabetes are more likely develop cardiovascular disease, with Diabetes UK claiming that the risk may be as much as five times higher. Cardiovascular disease refers to conditions that affect the heart and the blood vessels, like angina, heart attacks and strokes. If you have diabetes, you have between two and four times the risk of developing a stroke and these may occur at a younger age.

If you would like to learn more about stroke; the history, causes, and the various treatments, see Stroke: A Deeper Dive

What is diabetes?

It’s all linked to the way the body deals with energy from food in the diet. The carbohydrates we eat are broken down into glucose, which enters the bloodstream and travels to the cells to provide energy. The hormone insulin acts as the key that unlocks these cells, allowing the body’s muscles and tissues to use glucose for energy and safely store any excess.  

In diabetes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin for its needs.

Type 1 diabetes:

  • The pancreas does not make any insulin

Type 2 diabetes:

  • The body doesn’t make enough, or cannot use the insulin properly

Without enough insulin, the cells are unable to burn glucose for energy and it builds up in the bloodstream.

Over time, this can lead to fatty deposits and clots settling on the walls of the blood vessels, narrowing them. The clots can break off and lodge in the tiny blood vessels of the brain cutting off the supply of essential oxygen and causing a stroke.

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Making a difference

If these statistics have scared you, then don’t panic. There are ways to decrease the impact your diabetes has on your health and wellbeing.

Careful control

Monitor your blood sugar levels and aim for the optimum glucose targets that the diabetes team have given you.

A healthy weight

Being obese or overweight can affect your diabetes and increase the likelihood of having a stroke. Try and maintain a healthy BMI. The ideal level is between 18.5 and 24.9, but just getting below 30 will improve your health. Carrying your weight on your tummy is a particular risk factor so aim to keep your waist measurement below 31.5 inches.

Food for life

Many people with Type 2 diabetes can control their sugar levels with diet and exercise alone. So, stay active and focus on a healthy balanced diet, cutting back on refined carbohydrates and sugars. Choose fresh fruit and veg, plenty of lean meat and fish, pulses and whole grains. Stay away from processed and fast foods, they are usually high in calories and low in nutrients. Ask your GP for a referral to a dietician if you’re struggling.

Further risk factors for stroke

Diabetes isn’t the only risk factor for stroke, there are lots of other elements that can contribute. There are some things you can’t change, like your family history and your ethnicity (with people from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds being at significantly higher risk). However, there are ways in which you can make a difference.

Stop smoking

Cigarettes increase your chance of developing cardiovascular disease, so quit today.

Control your blood pressure

See your GP for regular check-ups and make sure you take any blood pressure medication regularly.

Check your blood cholesterol levels

Your GP or diabetes team will check your blood lipid levels and prescribe drugs if necessary.

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Decrease your alcohol intake

Booze boosts the chance of having a stroke. Try and stay within government healthy drinking guidelines of not more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

If you have diabetes, there will be many healthcare professionals to guide and support you. But when it comes to your body, you are the boss. By taking control of your diabetes and your lifestyle you can prevent stroke and keep yourself healthy and well.

If you’re caring for someone who has had a stroke, HomeTouch can help. Whether it’s a day off to run errands and catch-up with friends, or a week or two for a well-earned holiday, we have highly qualified carers available on a live in or hourly basiswho can help you through this time.

If you’re unsure about the prospect of care, that’s ok. You can download our impartial guide to elderly care (which is applicable no matter the age of your loved one) and get to know the many options available. There’s no harm in knowing more, and a carer might be able to provide you and your loved one with the support you need.

Find out more about Strokes:

Dr Jane Gilbert

Jane has over 20 years’ experience as a health writer and TV presenter. Jane writes on a wide variety of clinical and care topics – from explaining the latest studies and research to unpacking conditions and discussing treatment options. Jane holds a MBBS degree from Imperial College, London and spent seven years working in the NHS.

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