When it comes to heart disease, diabetes may deliver a double whammy. On its own, diabetes puts you at a high risk for developing heart disease, and one of the medications that is sometimes part of diabetes treatment can have negative effects on the heart as well.
This issue has come to light recently because of the diabetes medication Avandia (rosiglitazone). Avandia is part of a class of medications called thiazolidinediones that increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin. This, in turn, allows the insulin to better control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
But recent research has suggested that Avandia can cause fluid retention and increase the risk of heart disease and congestive heart failure in diabetics. Considering that people with diabetes are already at a high risk of heart disease and heart-related complications, this side effect is a major concern. It led to an advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration meeting to discuss the benefits and risks of this diabetes medication. In September 2010, the FDA limited Avandia use to those who cannot control their type 2 diabetes on other medications.
What You Should Do About Avandia
“Avandia has been shown to increase the risk of heart failure,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, a cardiologist and director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “This is a poor choice for most patients due to the propensity to develop heart disease with diabetes.”
If you’re already on Avandia, however, you should not abruptly stop taking the drug without speaking to your doctor first. “People currently taking Avandia should schedule an appointment with their health care provider to discuss alternate therapy,” says Constance Brown-Riggs, RD, the author of The African American Guide To Living Well With Diabetes.
“If there was ever an example of partnering with your doctor to make the best decision for you and your health, this is it,” says Pamela C. Butler, MS, manager of the Touro Diabetes Center in New Orleans. “If you take Avandia, do your homework, write down your questions and concerns, and make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the pros and cons of taking Avandia, as well as the alternatives.”
Other Ways to Reduce Heart Disease Risk
The good news when it comes to heart disease is that there are a number of ways to prevent it without medication. Here are just a few simple steps you can take:
Get plenty of exercise. Dr. Steinbaum says that exercise is the best medicine for reducing heart disease risk. Strive for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
Watch the red meat and dairy. Red meat and whole-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat, which increases your risk of heart disease. “You should get only 7 to 10 percent of your total daily calories from saturated fat,” says Brown-Riggs.
Eat more fish. Replace servings of red meat with fatty fish like salmon or tuna three or four times a week, says Brown-Riggs. These fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Get more fruits and veggies. Rich in fiber and heart-healthy antioxidants, fruits and vegetables should fill the majority of your plate during meals. “I recommend making about half of your plate vegetables at both lunch and dinner,” says Amy Hess-Fischl, RD, of the University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center.
Cut back on salt. Salt can contribute to high blood pressure and, as a result, an increased risk of heart disease. “Try using herbs and spices to add flavor to foods instead,” advises Fischl.