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 Diabetes and Heart Disease

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Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease. High blood glucose (sugar) levels over time can lead to increased deposits of fatty materials on the insides of your blood vessel walls. These deposits may affect your blood flow, which increases the chance of clogging and hardening of your blood vessels and leads to heart disease.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by a failure to secrete enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that lowers the level of glucose in the blood. In some cases, the cells don’t respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced. Because insulin is needed by your body to convert glucose into energy, these failures result in abnormally high levels of glucose accumulating in the blood. Diabetes may be a result of other conditions such as genetic syndromes, chemicals, drugs, poor nutrition, infections, viruses or other illnesses.

The three main types of diabetes—type 1, type 2, and gestational—are all defined as metabolic disorders that affect the way the body uses digested food to make glucose, the main source of fuel for your body.

What Are Normal Blood Glucose (Sugar) Levels?

  • Blood sugar levels over 200 mg/dL (mg/dL = milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood) or under 60 mg/dL are considered unhealthy.
  • High blood sugar levels (above 200 mg/dL) may be a sign of inadequate levels of insulin caused by diabetes medication, overeating, lack of exercise or other factors.
  • Low blood sugar levels (below 60 mg/dL) may be caused by taking too much insulin, skipping or postponing a meal, over-exercising, excessive alcohol consumption or other factors.
  • A good blood glucose level is between 60 mg/dL and 120 mg/dL.

The Link Between Diabetes and Heart Disease

People with diabetes are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease (heart and blood vessel disease) or stroke, with this risk being even greater for women who have diabetes. People with diabetes also often develop these conditions at an earlier age. Many people with diabetes have risk factors that increase their chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Those risk factors include:

When diabetes causes blockages to develop in the arteries it is called diabetic vascular disease, also known as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Diabetes can also

damage blood vessels elsewhere in your body, leading to eye problems, kidney problems, and poor circulation to your legs and feet.

The best way to prevent heart disease if you have diabetes is to control your diabetes and reduce your risk factors through diet and lifestyle changes. Your physician may also prescribe medication to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

How to Control Your Diabetes

The type of diabetes you have determines what type of treatment will work best for you. No matter what type you have, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising and keeping a healthy weight are all keys to managing your diabetes and reducing your risk factors for heart disease.

Treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes primarily involves:

Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women, and may be controlled with diet, exercise and attention to weight gain. In some cases, your physician may prescribe medicine or insulin shots to control your glucose levels. If you have had gestational diabetes you are at high risk of developing diabetes in your future, so it is important to be screened regularly for this.