Diabetes and Heart Disease

Understand the Connection

Why are Diabetes and Heart Disease Linked?


If you’re like most people, you may not know that diabetes and heart disease often go hand-in-hand.

Diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) 
  • Heart failure

The ways in which diabetes affects cardiovascular health are complex. But we do know that high levels of sugar in the blood can, over time, damage the blood vessels and nerves. These changes can make your blood vessels stiff and narrowed. As a result, blood may not flow as easily to your heart, brain or body.

Unfortunately, by the time someone learns they have diabetes, changes or injuries to the large (macro) or small (micro) blood vessels in the body have often already started. Talking with your care team about these changes is important.

  • Microvascular complications include diabetes-related kidney disease, vision and nerve problems
  • Macrovascular complications include heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease

People with diabetes are also more apt to have other heart disease risk factors. For example: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • Chronic kidney disease that can lead to dialysis
  • Being overweight or obese

By the Numbers

  • 1 out of 10: Americans living with diabetes 
  • 2X-4X: How much more likely people with diabetes are to develop heart disease or stroke compared with people who don’t have diabetes 
  • 2 out of 3: Proportion of deaths due to heart disease among people older than 65 with diabetes
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Published: July 2018
Medical Reviewers: John Bucheit, PharmD, BCACP, CDE; Deborah Croy, DNP, RN, ANP-BC, AACC
CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief: Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC, FAHA, FASPC

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