Diabetes and Heart Disease

diabetes and heart diseaseWhy is diabetes and heart disease such an important topic? Diabetics are more than twice as likely to develop diabetes congestive heart failure and strokes than other people. Incredible – in a bad way.

How is diabetes related to heart disease? Heart disease and strokes are often grouped together and called cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular diseases refer to a range of conditions caused by either the narrowing or hardening of a person’s blood vessels (atherosclerosis).

How does diabetes narrow or harden blood vessels? Uncontrolled diabetes increases blood glucose levels. This increase can raise a person’s blood cholesterol level.

HDL cholesterol is good for your body, removing deposits from your blood vessels. LDL cholesterol, on the other hand, does just the opposite. LDL cholesterol acts as unwanted deposits in blood vessels, leading to hardening or narrowing.

When the blood vessels get clogged, any number of serious health problems result, including diabetes and congestive heart failure.

Stroke. A stoke results when the blood supply to the brain is cut off. With no blood, the brain becomes damaged.

Warning Signs of a Stroke:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness in face, arm, or leg (one side of your body)
  • Sudden confusion, trouble talking or understanding
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, possibly double vision
  • Sudden severe headaches

Occasionally, the warning signs may disappear. This could be Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), also known as a “mini-stroke”.

Heart Attack. Diabetes and heart disease often culminate in a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when a blood vessel close to the heart becomes cut off. The area of the heart loses part of its blood supply causing it to stop working. The entire heart then becomes weaker causing a heart attack.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack:

heart disease

  • Chest Pain or Discomfort
  • Indigestion or stomach pain
  • Pain or discomfort in arms, back, jaw or neck
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Light headiness

Angina. Angina is where you feel pain in the chest, arms, back or shoulders, due to blood vessel damage. Typically, this occurs when you are exercising or under physical strain. Often, the pain recedes when resting.

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). PAD is where the blood vessels in your feet and legs become narrowed, leading to a decrease in blood flow. This condition increases the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Symptoms of PAD include:

  • Pain in the legs during exercise or walking
  • Numbness or tingling in feet or legs
  • Sores that heal slowly

Diabetes and heart disease can also result in high blood pressure (hypertension), which paradoxically can lead to more heart disease. Initially, diabetes can also cause narrowed blood vessels leaving a smaller opening for blood to flow through.

To move through the narrower blood vessels, the heart must work harder to push the blood raising one’s blood pressure. High blood pressure not only affects your heart, but also the kidneys and eyes. The target blood pressure for diabetics is less than 130/80.

Two other traits can substantially affect diabetes and heart disease. Central obesity, carrying weight around the waist, can increase the production of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind!), which is deposited in the blood vessels. Central obesity is defined as waist measurements above 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. Smoking is the other highly negative trait affecting heart disease.

Smoking doubles your heart disease risk. Smoking increases blood vessel narrowing and can lead to an increase in leg amputations and eye problems.

Treatment and Prevention

Now that you know all of the bad things that can happen. Maybe it is time to find out how to avoid them. We don’t know about you, but avoiding a stroke and or heart attack seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, the best way is the way people seem to have the hardest time following.

Eat Right. First, a proper heart healthy diet is critical. You can read about many of them in our diabetes diet section.

Exercise. Next, you guessed it, Daily Physical Exercise. As the Penguins in Madagascar so aptly put it, you need to get out there and Move It!!

Lose the Weight. If you weren’t already aware, shedding some of the excess pounds is essential. If this sounds like you, check out some of our diet options in the diabetes diet review area of our website.

Stop Smoking. Very obvious, but just in case, No Smoking Allowed.

Proper Medication. For some of you, you may need to check with your doctor to see if medication is appropriate.

Lower Cholesterol. This one is apparent as well.


National Institute of Health, Publication No. 06-5094, Diabetes Heart Disease and Stroke, December 2005 (Accessed December 2008).
National Institute of Health, Publication No. 07-4283, Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, February 2007 (Accessed December 2008).
By Erich Schultz – Last Reviewed February 2012.