About 30 million Americans have diabetes, and an estimated 1.5 million more are diagnosed each year. More than 25 percent of our seniors have diabetes, and minority populations are at the greatest risk of developing this disease. African Americans, for instance, have a 77 percent higher risk of developing diabetes compared to White Americans. Hispanic Americans have a 66 percent higher risk. 

Most meticulously monitor their blood sugar,  as they know that failing to keep diabetes in check can damage the kidneys, eyes, and feet. But even so, still about 50,000 Americans start dialysis each year because of diabetes-induced kidney failure. More than three million Americans with diabetes experience partial vision loss. And over 70,000 undergo foot or limb amputations due to diabetic ulcers. 

What few know, though, is that the disease also threatens the heart. People living with diabetes are more than twice as likely to develop a heart problem and up to four times as likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Yet half of people living with diabetes aren’t aware of this risk.  

That needs to change. Educating doctors and patients about the connection between diabetes and heart disease and ways to protect heart health could save millions of lives and billions of dollars. 

Type 2 diabetes changes how the body processes glucose, a sugar found in foods. This results in chronically high levels of blood sugar, which can lead to a host of life-threatening health problems. In fact, diabetes is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.  

The combination of diabetes and cardiovascular disease is a major driver of healthcare spending in the United States. Diabetes alone costs our nation $245 billion a year in medical spending and lost productivity. Heart complications account for a quarter of the medical costs. 

Reducing the toll of diabetes and heart disease won’t be easy. But simply raising awareness of this diabetes heart connection can motivate change that America desperately needs in order to chip away at the increasing burden of chronic disease throughout our country. 

Medical professionals play a crucial role in educating people about the diabetes heart connection, recommending changes needed to manage diabetes and protect the heart, and following progress. 

Getting to the heart of America’s diabetes crisis is long overdue. It’s time to make the diabetes heart connection and save millions of lives and healthcare dollars in the process.  

Kenneth E. Thorpe is a professor of health policy at Emory University and chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease.

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