How diabetes affects your heart (and how to lower your risk of heart disease)


by Michael Sills, MD

Feb 1, 2018

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you are likely aware you’re at risk of developing heart disease. But you may not realize how strongly the two are correlated — according to the American Diabetes Association, two out of every three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.

With those kinds of numbers, heart health should be a priority for the more than 30 million Americans living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

If you have diabetes, make sure you know how to protect your heart and lower your chances of developing heart problems in the future.

The connection between diabetes and heart disease

Coronary artery disease, one of the most common types of heart disease, is frequently noted in diabetics, and evidence suggests that the progression is related to blood sugar control. High blood sugar can lead to clogged blood vessels, which in turn can lead to heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular issues.

While maintaining good blood sugar control is always a goal for diabetics, it’s even more so when you think about the consequences for your heart.

Two big factors in heart health for people with diabetes are duration and control. The longer a person has diabetes and the less well-controlled it is, the more likely they are to develop heart disease. Generally speaking, after about 10 years of diabetes, most physicians make the assumption that a diabetic likely has some degree of coronary artery disease.

Protecting your heart

So if you already have diabetes, how can you lower your chances of developing heart disease or stroke?

  • Exercise. The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Calculating your BMI can help give you an idea of the healthy weight range for you. Talk to your doctor about any weight loss goals.
  • Monitor your blood sugar closely. Check your blood sugar often and consult with your doctor to make sure you are managing your diabetes effectively.
  • Keep your cholesterol in a healthy range. Understand what your cholesterol scores mean and how to improve them.
  • Avoid tobacco products. Smoking greatly increases your risk of developing heart disease. It decreases your tolerance for physical activity, increases your tendency to develop blood clots and increases your risk of stroke and aneurysms.

The connection between heart disease and diabetes is strong, but there are steps you can take today to lower your risk. Make sure you know the other risk factors and early signs of coronary artery disease, and talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.

Take this quiz to find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, or find out more about heart and vascular care or diabetes management at Baylor Scott & White Health.

About the Author

Michael Sills, MD, is a cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Dallas. His clinical interests include diagnostic and preventive cardiology as well as cardiac imaging. He is an avid runner, chef and proud grandfather.

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