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Diabetes and Heart Disease: General Overview

Synopsis: If you have diabetes you are at least twice as likely as someone who does not have diabetes to have heart disease, or a stroke.1

Author: Thomas C. Weiss Contact: Disabled World

Published: 2016-01-04 Updated: 2018-06-30

Main Digest

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus (DM), commonly referred to as diabetes, is a group of metabolic diseases in which there are high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. Symptoms of high blood sugar include frequent urination, increased thirst, and increased hunger. If left untreated, diabetes can cause many complications. Acute complications include diabetic ketoacidosis and nonketotic hyperosmolar coma. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney failure, foot ulcers and damage to the eyes. Diabetes is due to either the pancreas not producing enough insulin or the cells of the body not responding properly to the insulin produced.

Having diabetes or prediabetes places a person at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. You can lower your risk by keeping your blood glucose or, 'blood sugar,' blood cholesterol and blood pressure close to the recommended target numbers, which are the levels suggested by diabetes experts for good health. Reaching your targets can also help to prevent narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels in your legs - a condition called, 'peripheral arterial disease.' You can reach your targets by choosing foods wisely, being physically active and taking medications if needed. If you have already experienced a heart attack or stroke, taking care of yourself may help to prevent additional health issues.

Understanding Diabetes

Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism, the way our bodies use digested food for energy. The majority of the food people eat is broken down into glucose, the form of sugar present in blood. Glucose is the body's main source of fuel to run on.

Following digestion, glucose enters the bloodstream. Glucose then goes to cells throughout a person's body where it is used for energy. A hormone called, 'insulin,' however, must be present to permit glucose to enter the cells. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, a large gland behind your stomach.

In those who do not experience diabetes, the pancreas automatically produces the correct amount of insulin to move glucose from blood into the cells. Diabetes; however, develops when a person's pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, or the cells in the liver, muscles and fat do not use insulin appropriately - or both. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases, all while the cells are starved of energy.

Over a period of time, high blood glucose levels damage blood vessels and nerves, leading to complications such as stroke and heart disease, the leading causes of death in people with diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes may eventually lead to additional health issues as well, such as kidney failure, loss of vision or amputations. Diabetes can lead to heart and blood vessel disease.


'Prediabetes,' is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than usual, yet not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Prediabetes is also called, 'impaired fasting glucose,' or, 'impaired glucose tolerance.' A number of people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes within a decade. They are at risk for heart disease and stroke. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people with prediabetes can delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes and lower their risk of heart disease or stroke.

The Connection Between Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke

If you have diabetes, you are at least two-times as likely as a person who does not have diabetes to have heart disease, or a stroke. People with diabetes also tend to develop heart disease, or have strokes at an earlier age than others. If you are middle-aged and have type 2 diabetes, some studies suggest your chance of experiencing a heart attack is as high as a person without diabetes who has already had one heart attack.

Women who have not gone through menopause usually have less risk of heart disease than men of the same age. Yet women of all ages with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease because diabetes cancels out the protective effects of being a woman in her child-bearing years.

People with diabetes who have already experienced one heart attack have an even greater risk of experiencing a second one. In addition, heart attacks in people with diabetes are more serious and more likely to result in the death of the person. High blood glucose levels over time may lead to increased deposits of fatty materials on the insides of the blood vessel walls. The deposits may affect the flow of blood, increasing the chances of clogging and hardening of blood vessels or, 'atherosclerosis.'

Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Stroke in People with Diabetes

Diabetes is itself a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Many people with diabetes have other conditions that increase their chance of developing heart disease and stroke. These conditions are referred to as, 'risk factors.' One risk factor for heart disease and stroke is having a family history of heart disease. If one or more members of your family experienced a heart attack at an early age, prior to age 55 for men or 65 for women, you might be at increased risk. You cannot change whether heart disease runs in your family, although you can take steps to control other risk factors for heart disease by pursuing some different things.

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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Thomas C. Weiss. Electronic Publication Date: 2016-01-04. Last Revised Date: 2018-06-30. Reference Title: Diabetes and Heart Disease: General Overview, Source: <a href=>Diabetes and Heart Disease: General Overview</a>. Abstract: If you have diabetes you are at least twice as likely as someone who does not have diabetes to have heart disease, or a stroke. Retrieved 2021-02-28, from - Reference Category Number: DW#219-11828.