Having diabetes means that you are more likely to develop heart disease and have a greater chance of a heart attack or a stroke. People with diabetes are also more likely to have certain conditions, or risk factors, that increase the chances of having heart disease or stroke, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. If you have diabetes, you can protect your heart and health by managing your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, as well as your blood pressure and cholesterol. If you smoke, get help to stop.
What is the link between diabetes, heart disease, and stroke?
Over time, high blood glucose from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. The longer you have diabetes, the higher the chances that you will develop heart disease.1 People with diabetes tend to develop heart disease at a younger age than people without diabetes. In adults with diabetes, the most common causes of death are heart disease and stroke. Adults with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes.2 The good news is that the steps you take to manage your diabetes also help to lower your chances of having heart disease or stroke.
What else increases my chances of heart disease or stroke if I have diabetes?
If you have diabetes, other factors add to your chances of developing heart disease or having a stroke.
Smoking raises your risk of developing heart disease. If you have diabetes, it is important to stop smoking because both smoking and diabetes narrow blood vessels. Smoking also increases your chances of developing other long-term problems such as lung disease. Smoking also can damage the blood vessels in your legs and increase the risk of lower leg infections, ulcers, and amputation.
High blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, your heart must work harder to pump blood. High blood pressure can strain your heart, damage blood vessels, and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, eye problems, and kidney problems.
Abnormal cholesterol levels
Cholesterol is a type of fat produced by your liver and found in your blood. You have two kinds of cholesterol in your blood: LDL and HDL. LDL, often called “bad” cholesterol, can build up and clog your blood vessels. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk of developing heart disease. Another type of blood fat, triglycerides, also can raise your risk of heart disease when the levels are higher than recommended by your healthcare team.
Obesity and belly fat
Being overweight or obese can affect your ability to manage your diabetes and increase your risk for many health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure. If you are overweight, a healthy eating plan with reduced calories often will lower your glucose levels and reduce your need for medications.
Excess belly fat around your waist, even if you are not overweight, can raise your chances of developing heart disease. Even if you are a normal weight, excess belly fat can raise your risk for heart disease. You have excess belly fat if your waist measures
- more than 40 inches and you are a man
- more than 35 inches and you are a woman
Family history of heart disease
A family history of heart disease may also add to your chances of developing heart disease. If one or more of your family members had a heart attack before age 50, you may have an even higher chance of developing heart disease.3
You can’t change whether heart disease runs in your family, but if you have diabetes, it’s even more important to take steps to protect yourself from heart disease and decrease your chances of having a stroke.
- Huo X, Gao L, Guo L, et al. Risk of non-fatal cardiovascular diseases in early-onset versus late-onset type 2 diabetes in China: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.2016;4(2):115–124.
- National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National diabetes statistics report, 2014. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/statistics-report.html. Accessed December 22, 2016.
- Kolber MR, Scrimshaw C. Family history of cardiovascular disease. Canadian Family Physician.2014;60(11):1016.