he mission of the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada (CHFC) is aimed at cardiovascular disease prevention, education, and rehabilitation. We are pleased to contribute to this supplement in support of raising awareness of heart health. This includes addressing concerns regarding the rising rate of Type 2 diabetes and its connection to cardiovascular disease.

Diabetes can lead to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, which are diseases of the heart and circulatory system respectively. According to Diabetes Canada (formerly the Canadian Diabetes Association), people with diabetes who develop heart disease do so 10 to 15 years earlier than individuals without diabetes, and are 2 to 4 times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease associated with diabetes, and occurs when the arteries that supply the heart with blood become blocked or narrowed by fatty deposits. These blockages are often referred to as a hardening of the arteries. If the arteries supplying blood to the heart become hardened, it can lead to a heart attack.

High blood glucose (sugar) is a key risk factor for angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart), heart attack and stroke. Often, people with diabetes also have other associated risk factors, including high blood pressure, being overweight (especially around the waist), inactive lifestyles, and high cholesterol. As well, smoking can double the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes.

Troubling implications of Type 2 diabetes rates

Today, more than 10 million Canadians are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. In its 2015 Diabetes Report: Driving Change, Diabetes Canada reported that the incidence of Type 2 diabetes in Canada doubled between 2000 and 2010. This increase creates a tidal wave effect for cardiovascular disease when we consider that up to 60 percent of patients with Type 2 diabetes will die from cardiovascular-related complications.

Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death among people with diabetes. This impending tsunami associated with the link between cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes is particularly devastating for First Nations people, as the rate of Type 2 diabetes diagnosis among this group is three to five times higher than the rest of Canadians.

Improved access to new treatments urgently needed

In addressing these challenges, the CHFC echoes Diabetes Canada in calling for enhanced access to quality care and support, which includes new medications that may reduce the projected death rates from diabetes-related cardiovascular disease.

There are new treatments for diabetes that, when supported with lifestyle modifications — including regular exercise, managing blood sugar levels through diet, keeping cholesterol levels in check, and implementing strategies to control hypertension — may help address this emerging epidemic. Some of these therapies may be costly and not accessible to all patients.  Equally important, we also need to expand availability and access to cardiovascular rehabilitation programs, which can reduce mortality rates by as much as 50 percent. According to Diabetes Canada, 57 percent of people with diabetes do not comply with prescribed therapy, because they cannot afford their medications.

As a member of the Health Charities Coalition of Canada, we have urged the Government of Canada to ensure equitable and timely access to medication and support programs for all. The lives of Canadians are at stake. We urge everyone to appeal to their MPs and MPPs to insist they too help ensure all Canadians have access to treatment options that are effective in reducing death from diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We must work together to conquer this tidal wave.