Managing diabetes

Diabetes increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. Learn more about the link between diabetes and your heart.

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Diabetes (Mate Huka) is a condition that causes too much glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. It occurs when your body has trouble making or using a hormone called insulin.

Insulin takes glucose from your blood into your cells, where it is used to make energy. When you have diabetes, too much sugar stays in the blood. This causes inflammation or damage in your arteries, (the blood vessels that transport oxygen around the body). It makes them stiffer and narrower, which increases your risk of heart attack or stroke.

People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, than people who don't have diabetes.

The good news is that the steps you can take to manage your diabetes will also reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Types of diabetes 

  • Type 1 diabetes happens your body can't make insulin. This condition usually starts when you're a child or teenager.
  • Type 2 diabetes is when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or it can’t use the insulin it’s producing. This condition comes on gradually and usually starts over the age of 30.

Pre-diabetes

Pre-diabetes is when your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough for you to be diagnosed with diabetes. If you've been told you have pre-diabetes, making lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes

Sometimes people don’t realise they have type 2 diabetes because they don't have symptoms. Other people may:

  • feel very thirsty
  • need to urinate (wee) a lot
  • feel very tired
  • have blurry vision
  • have sores or cuts that take a long time to heal
  • get skin infections or bladder (urinary tract) infections
  • have itching around your genitals or regular episodes of thrush

What causes diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a condition that sometimes runs in families. You cannot prevent it.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Nearly all (80%) of type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented by:

  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • eating a heart-healthy diet
  • staying physically active

You're more likely to get type 2 diabetes if you:

  • are Māori, Pacific or South Asian
  • smoke
  • have a close family member (parent, brother or sister) with type 2 diabetes
  • have high blood pressure
  • had diabetes in pregnancy
  • are overweight
  • have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes
  • don't do much exercise

What can I do to manage my diabetes?

Here are some ways to manage your diabetes and reduce your heart attack risk.

  • Aim to eat healthy foods to control your blood sugar levels.
  • Plan ways to include physical activity in your daily routine.
  • See your doctor or nurse at least once a year.
  • Find a local diabetes support group (Diabetes New Zealand has information on groups near you).
  • Ask whānau and friends to support you in managing your diabetes.
  • Remember help is available from your doctor, nurse or other health professionals should you need it. For information, visit diabetes.org.nz.

What else can I do to lower my risk of heart attack? 

Making healthy changes to your lifestyle will help you lower your risk of heart attack or stroke, as well as helping control your diabetes.

Even a small change can have a positive impact. The more you change, the better the result.

View all diabetes resourcesHear from others living with diabetes