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Diabetes and Heart Disease

The link between diabetes and heart disease 

Heart and vascular disease often go hand-in-hand with diabetes. People with diabetes are at a much greater risk for heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. Other vascular problems due to diabetes include poor circulation to the legs and feet. Unfortunately, many cardiovascular problems can go undetected and start early in life.

Silent heart disease in young people with diabetes

Serious cardiovascular disease can begin before age of 30 in people with diabetes. The two most common types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes (also called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus) is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, resulting in no or a low amount of insulin. Type 2 diabetes (also called non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus) is the result of the body's inability to make enough, or to properly use insulin.

According to the American Diabetes Association, damage to the coronary arteries is two to four times more likely in people with no symptoms who have type 1 diabetes than in the general population. Because symptoms may be absent at first, the American Diabetes Association recommends early diagnosis and treatment, as well as management, of risk factors.

Many studies demonstrate people with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease. In fact, one study found that people with type 2 diabetes, without apparent heart problems, ran the same risk for heart disease as people without diabetes who had already suffered one heart attack.

What causes heart disease in persons with diabetes?

People with diabetes often experience changes in the blood vessels that can lead to cardiovascular disease. In people with diabetes, the linings of blood vessels may become thicker, making it more difficult for blood to flow through the vessels. When blood flow is impaired, heart problems or stroke can occur. Blood vessels can also suffer damage elsewhere in the body due to diabetes, leading to eye problems, kidney problems, as well as poor circulation to the legs and feet.

Prevention and treatment of heart disease in people with diabetes

Even when taking proper care of yourself, heart disease may still occur. Specific treatment for heart disease will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

When risk factors are eliminated (or reduced) in a person with diabetes, the risk for heart disease may be reduced. Taking care of yourself and controlling your blood sugar can often slow down or prevent the onset of complications. Other preventive treatment measures may include:

  • See a physician regularly.
  • Have annual electrocardiograms, or EKGs (a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms and detects heart muscle damage), cholesterol and blood pressure check-ups and pulse measurement in legs and feet.
  • Pay attention to your symptoms and report them promptly to your physician.
  • Control your blood sugar levels.
  • Control blood pressure levels with lifestyle and diet changes, and/or medication.
  • Keep low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (the "bad" cholesterol) at less than 100 mg/dL.
  • Control your weight. 
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet. 
  • Do not smoke.
  • Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Always consult your physician for the most appropriate treatment plan based on your medical condition