By Peter Kates

If you are living with diabetes, you may already know you are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who have diabetes are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease. What you may not know is that it is important for someone with diabetes to maintain low LDL cholesterol because your blood LDL cholesterol level is a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease.

At your next medical visit, ask your health care provider if statin therapy should become part of your diabetes care. Statins are a class of medications that can reduce LDL cholesterol. The target LDL levels for people living with diabetes are less than 70 mg/dl for those without cardiovascular disease, and less than 55 mg/dl for those with cardiovascular disease, according to current clinical practice recommendations from the American Diabetes Association.

“LDL cholesterol is produced by the body and can occur at high levels naturally, or as the result of excess body weight or lifestyle choices such as smoking or lack of exercise,” says Lorna Fitzpatrick, MD, vice president of medical affairs and senior medical director at Univera Healthcare. “LDL forms plaque deposits that stick to the inside walls of arteries, narrowing them and restricting blood flow.”

When blood flow to the heart is reduced, it can cause a heart attack. When blood flow to the brain is reduced, it can cause a stroke. A heart attack or stroke can also occur when a plaque deposit breaks off from the artery wall and travels to the heart or brain.

Statins not only lower bad LDL cholesterol, but also raise the good HDL cholesterol, which helps the body rid itself of the bad cholesterol. They lessen the buildup of plaque inside arteries and make it more stable, so it doesn’t break away from the artery wall. Statins also decrease swelling (inflammation) caused by plaque in the arteries.

“There is a misconception that people with diabetes should avoid statins because they may cause blood sugar levels to go up a little,” says Fitzpatrick. “The risk is small and usually outweighed by the risk of high LDL cholesterol causing a heart attack, heart failure, or a stroke.” She advises all individuals living with diabetes to ask their health care provider if they are a candidate for statin therapy. The provider will assess their individual situation and determine whether this class of medications is right for them.

Peter Kates is vice president of communications at Univera Healthcare