Diabetes and Your Heart

When a person has diabetes, she is also more likely to develop heart disease. Depending on the diabetic's number of risk factors, she may face an even greater risk of heart disease. For example, someone who has diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, who smokes, and who is completely inactive is at far greater risk of heart disease than someone who only has diabetes. Therefore, controlling risk factors that you can change is extremely important to improve overall health.

How It Works

Scientists believe that diabetes increases your risk of heart disease because persistent elevated levels of blood sugar damage arteries. If you recall how atherosclerotic plaque gets started, you will remember that plaque begins to form on areas where the inside lining of the blood vessels is damaged.

Like high blood pressure, diabetes can also cause weakness directly in the heart, known as diabetic cardiomyopathy. This weakness causes the heart to pump poorly and fluid to back up in the lungs and body (congestive heart failure). Like with high blood pressure, it can also make the heart require more blood flow, and people with risk factors such as diabetes often have less blood flow through their blood vessels.

Scientists continue to research other mechanisms to explain why people with diabetes are at such an increased risk of heart disease. Though the causality is still under debate, the fact that diabetes significantly increases your risk for heart disease is well researched and proven.


Diabetes increases a woman's risk of heart disease by three to seven times, compared with a twofold to threefold increase in risk for men, according to the American Heart Association. while it is important for all people with diabetes to take extra good care of their health, this is even more necessary for women.

Risk and Treatment

People with diabetes have a much higher risk for heart attack and stroke. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, two out of every three people with diabetes will die of a heart attack or stroke. Diabetes alone raises your risk of cardiovascular disease by two to four times. In the presence of other risk factors, this number is much higher.

Fortunately, aggressive treatment of diabetes has been shown to reduce this risk significantly. Unfortunately, it's challenging for even the most compliant diabetics to maintain normal blood sugar levels all the time. The treatment of diabetes often involves injecting insulin at certain times of day.

No matter how hard you work, it's pretty much impossible to be able to mimic the body's carefully designed physiologic release of insulin. Therefore, though aggressive treatment of diabetes will lower the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other effects, ultimately, the risk is still increased versus someone who is not diabetic.

Therefore, the most successful treatment for diabetes is prevention or being able to eliminate the disease through lifestyle modification, which may be possible for type 2 diabetics.

Though the elimination of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes is possible through appropriate diet and exercise for type 2 diabetics, the blood pressure and blood sugar issues make exercise more challenging. Those with high blood pressure who take blood pressure medicines may not be able to get as much blood flow to exercising muscles and tissues.

Diabetics who take blood sugar-lowering medication may not have enough blood sugar to fuel the same tissues. These are just further reasons that prevention is the key, as medications can cause further issues that hinder your ability to implement all the lifestyle modifications necessary.

Other Effects

In addition to directly increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes has many other devastating long-term effects on the body, some of which further increase your risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease.

In terms of some of diabetes’ direct effects, the elevated blood sugar is known to cause neuropathy or disease of the nerves. In your legs, this can cause decreased sensation. Such decreased sensation can keep you from noticing and tending to minor injuries of your feet. Combine this with diabetics’ poor ability to heal, and they are much more prone to infection. The neuropathy also tends to go into the optic nerve, which is responsible for our ability to see. For this reason, diabetics tend to have many more issues with vision.

Like high blood pressure, diabetes also affects the kidneys, and since the kidneys regulate blood pressure, this can contribute to high blood pressure. Once again, we see how certain risk factors for cardiovascular disease can worsen other risk factors. This is partly why people with multiple risk factors are at far greater risk than the total of the risks from each risk factor.

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