Are Diabetics At An Increased Risk For Heart Disease?

Diabetes is not a condition to be taken lightly. Diabetics must follow many strict dietary restrictions and lifestyle choices in order to live a healthy, long life. If not managed well, the disease can cause further health issues and even an early death. And one such issue is heart disease.

Diabetics are at an increased risk of suffering from heart disease, stroke, or a heart attack than non-diabetics due to induced risk factors. If you are a diabetic, managing your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol is a must to protect your heart. It is also crucial that you stop smoking if you are in the habit.


The Link Between Diabetes And Heart Disease

The most common causes of death among adults with diabetes are heart disease and stroke. And they are more likely to develop heart disease when they are younger when compare to non-diabetics.1 This is because of multiple reasons.

The longer you have had diabetes, the higher the risk of developing heart disease.2


As a diabetic, you will have high blood glucose level that will, over time, harm your blood vessels, the nerves that control your blood vessels, and the heart. Hyperglycemia (abnormally high blood glucose), along with free fatty acids in the blood, thicken the lining of the blood vessels, which restricts the flow of blood through it. This, in turn, leads to cardiovascular diseases.3

Additionally, type 2 diabetes is known to increase the risk of coronary heart disease and related death.4 This link is found to be stronger in women than in men, putting women at a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease. Steps taken to manage diabetes will benefit your health in general and reduce the risk of suffering from a stroke or heart disease.


Heart Disease Risk Factors In Diabetics

Following are some of the most common factors that increase the risk for heart disease in diabetics:5 6

1. Smoking

Diabetics who smoke are more susceptible to heart diseases


Smoking is a big no-no for everyone. There are multiple health hazards that are related to smoking. However, the ill effects are particularly high for those who have diabetes. Diabetes narrows blood vessels, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood. But smoking narrows the blood vessels too, thus doubling the effect on a diabetic and thus make you susceptible to heart disease.

Quitting smoking will lower your risk of stroke, heart attack, nerve disease, eye disease, and kidney disease. What’s more, your blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels may improve as well.


2. Being Overweight

Its difficult to manage diabetes if you are overweight

It is very difficult to manage diabetes when you are overweight. The additional pounds can also lead to other health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. Even if you are not overweight, excess belly fat around your waist can mean a higher risk for heart disease. So, managing weight should be your priority.


To drop the pounds you have to modify your diet and exercise regularly. You should avoid all kinds of sweets, especially refined sugar and sugar-sweetened drinks. You should also cut down your carbs intake, and increase your protein and fiber consumption. Once you adopt a healthier lifestyle, you should be able to witness improvements in your blood pressure and overall health.

3. High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can have damaging effects on blood vessels


For a diabetic with high blood pressure, the risk for cardiovascular diseases doubles because the coronary arteries which serve the heart will be under excess strain. Over time, these arteries will be narrowed due to the buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, and other substances). When plaque starts to accumulate, the arteries will not only be narrowed but will also harden, making the formation of blood clots more likely. Once an artery becomes blocked (with the plaque or a blood clot), blood to the heart will cease to flow as normal, depriving the heart of muscle of oxygen and nutrients.7

That’s not all. Blood vessels in the retina, the area at the back of the eye, can also be damaged. This is known as hypertensive retinopathy.

High blood pressure, if not under control, can cause stress to the arteries around the kidneys, making them narrow, weaken or harden. Once damaged, these arteries will be unable to deliver blood to the kidney tissue efficiently.

4. Abnormal Blood Sugar Level

 Abnormally high blood sugar level can lead to cardiac issues

If your blood sugar level is abnormally high, medications may be needed to control it. The longer your blood sugar level is left unmanaged, the higher the risk of developing heart disease. Adults with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes.

When your blood sugar level is high, it means that the glucose in your blood is high. High levels of glucose in the blood can damage nerves and all types and sizes of blood vessels (including the blood vessels in the heart). Blood sugar level must be managed to reduce the ill effects on the blood vessels and the different organs in the body.

Over time, the high glucose level in the blood will also cause damage to nerves throughout the body. Your blood becomes thicker and stickier if you have high glucose. This makes your arteries hardened. This damaging effect on blood vessels will, in turn, affect their ability to provide nutrients and oxygen to various organs, including the heart.

5. Lack Of Physical Activity

Being physically inactive can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases

Being physically inactive is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, especially if you have diabetes. By just getting the recommended dose of exercise and losing weight, you can reduce the risk of heart attack, reduce blood pressure, and even prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

If you are diabetic, remember that most kinds of physical activity can help you to manage your weight and thus your diabetes. It is important to include vigorous aerobic activity (an activity that makes your heart beat faster), strength training, and stretching in your exercise regime.

According to the American Diabetes Association, if you have type 2 diabetes, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, at least five days a week.

It is recommended that diabetics get a minimum of 10,000 steps under their belt every day. Children with diabetics are recommended to get at least an hour of physical activity every day.8

Consult your doctor about which kind of exercise will best suit you, while considering your health and age. You can include aerobic exercise in your daily routine by doing any of these:

  • Climbing stairs
  • Walking briskly or hiking
  • Dancing
  • Swimming or a water-aerobics class
  • Riding a cycle
  • Playing a sport such as football

6. Abnormal Cholesterol Levels

cholesterol level should be monitored for a healthy heart

Your blood contains two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Cholesterol levels can be maintained, to an extent, by making good lifestyle choices. Just keep this in mind: An abnormally high level of LDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease and so does triglycerides, another type of blood fat.

7. Stress

 Long-term stress can raise your blood glucose and blood pressure.

Stress is a constant. You’re bound to get frustrated with something or the other on any given day. The trick is to not let it overwhelm you, especially if you’re diabetic. Long-term stress can raise your blood glucose and blood pressure. So, find ways to manage stress in healthy ways. Try exercising regularly, practice yoga and meditation, listen to music, or try effective breathing techniques.

8. Family History

family history of heart disease can increase your chances too

You may be leading a very healthy lifestyle and maintaining a good weight. But if heart disease runs in the family, you will be at risk. Combined with diabetes, you’re even more susceptible. So, keep a close eye on your heart health and take necessary steps to reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

As a diabetic, it is crucial that you make smart choices in regards to your lifestyle in order to live a long, normal life. Having a balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help you keep your blood glucose level in the desired range. If you take medicines to manage your diabetes, make it a priority not to skip any doses, no matter how busy your life gets.