Share on Pinterest
After losing her mother to heart failure from type 2 diabetes, actor Angela Bassett is working to spread awareness about the heart health dangers living with the condition can pose. Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
  • People living with type 2 diabetes are two times more likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, and heart failure than people who do not have diabetes.
  • Actor Angela Bassett lost her mother to heart failure from diabetes, but was previously unaware there was a connection between type 2 diabetes and heart health.
  • Bassett is now using her platform to help raise awareness of the additional heart health dangers people can face when they are living with type 2 diabetes.

Actor Angela Bassett knew her mother had type 2 diabetes. However, she didn’t realize that the condition put her heart in jeopardy.

“[I had] absolutely no awareness about the connection between type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. I was really concerned, of course, for taking care of my mother’s other needs that I could see and ascertain naturally, or what she wanted or complained about,” Bassett told Healthline.

When her mom died from heart failure due to diabetes, Bassett felt blindsided.

“There were challenges of being a mature age or the stress of living alone that were overwhelming for her, and maybe more conversations about [her health] could have been helpful,” Bassett said.

The loss of her mom inspired Bassett to raise awareness and keep others from going through what her mother did.

In 2019, Bassett joined forces with Know Diabetes by Heart, a joint effort from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA), to reduce cardiovascular disease and death in people living with type 2 diabetes.

“My motivation was, I was sad and [it was a] devastating occurrence feeling like I lost my mom — my heart. Anytime is too soon, but I’m using this as an opportunity to honor her and her legacy and also to help others… in terms of education and advocacy and taking those steps to make a difference in their lives,” Bassett said.

According to the AHA, people living with type 2 diabetes are two times more likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure, than people who do not have diabetes.

The reason for this is partly because of diabetes itself, but also because of higher body weight, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure that typically accompany type 2 diabetes, explained Dr. John P. Mordes, endocrinologist at UMass Memorial Health.

“They all act together to damage blood vessels, cause inflammation, and initiate heart attacks and strokes. Heart health in type 2 diabetes depends not just on control of blood sugar, but also on excellent control of cholesterol levels and blood pressure,” Mordes told Healthline.

Bassett’s latest endeavor is hosting Know Diabetes by Heart at the Theater, a free virtual event at the Apollo Theater in Harlem that will be live-streamed on May 25 and accessible on demand afterward.

As part of the event, Bassett will perform an original monologue based on her family’s personal experiences with diabetes and heart disease. The show will include other personal stories as well as Harlem-based entertainment, including a jazz ensemble, break dancing, and singing.

The event combines two of Bassett’s passions.

“That’s artistic expression — love it — and also education and giving back. It’s an authentic giveback perfectly tailored for my interests,” she said.

The show will include information on how to take action and manage cardiovascular risk and stroke that’s associated with diabetes, paying particular attention to the Black community, which is affected by the disease at a disproportional rate.

According to the ADA, when compared with non-Hispanic white people, non-Hispanic Black people are three times as likely to be hospitalized for uncontrolled diabetes.

“Black populations in the U.S. have a higher degree of risk factors for diabetes including obesity, lack of physical activity, and family history of diabetes. The prevalence of these risk factors is heavily influenced by structural inequities and racism,” Dr. Joshua J. Joseph, assistant professor of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.

Mordes added that the rate of diabetes among different ethnicities is in part determined by genetics, but the rate within all ethnicities varies with socioeconomic status. He points out the following as factors that contribute to a person’s genetic predisposition to clinical diabetes:

  • limited access to medical care
  • mistrust of care providers
  • lack of educational opportunities
  • financial constraints
  • inadequate insurance
  • compromised access to sources of a healthy diet

“Addressing the disproportionate prevalence of type 2 diabetes among African Americans (and Native Americas) will require both improving access to good healthcare services, particularly preventive care, and also addressing the underlying educational and economic disparities that set the stage for diabetes,” Mordes said.

Bassett is honored to help raise awareness for the Black community and provide means of empowerment.

“The Black community bears a real high burden… in terms of this health concern, but there are actionable steps and small steps that can be taken so that it doesn’t have to be the story and the risks don’t have to be as high in our community,” she said.

Heart health is greatly improved by exercising at least 150 minutes per week, eating a heart-healthy diet, not smoking, and keeping body weight in a moderate range, explained Joseph.

“Additionally, controlling blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure are all key to improving heart health. We call these ‘Life’s Simple 7,’” Joseph said.

The AHA offers My Life Check, an interactive online tool to help assess and track your heart health information and gain a better understanding of your risk of heart disease and stroke.

For those with type 2 diabetes, Mordes pointed out that newer medications, called SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP-1 receptor agonists, can lower blood sugar but also help reduce weight and have beneficial effects on heart health.

Additionally, 2021 has brought to the forefront new technologies, such as continuous blood sugar monitors, and new treatments for diabetic complications, such as those that can affect the eye and heart.

“Taking control of diabetes and preventing its potential complications requires, first, a personal commitment to try to do everything necessary to take charge of the diabetes, and second, a willingness to seek out and work together with a diabetes specialty team,” Mordes said.

“The marriage of motivation and expert caregivers is an important social goal that can give everyone with diabetes today the promise of a long and healthy life free of diabetic complications,” he said.