Heart disease is the most common long-term complication of diabetes. Diabetes is now regarded as one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease. The risk worsens when combined with other common risk factors for heart disease.

Diabetic Heart Disease Overview
Linking Diabetes and Heart Disease
  • Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke, account for about 65 to 75 percent of all diabetes-related deaths.
  • Heart disease strikes people with diabetes two to four times as often as people without diabetes. 
  • People with diabetes are as likely to have a heart attack as people without diabetes who have already had a heart attack.
  • People with diabetes are also at increased risk for heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood adequately. This can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs, as well as fluid retention in other parts of the body, particularly the legs.
Why the Increased Risk?

People with diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease because:

  • Elevations in blood sugar (glucose) can lead to damage inside blood vessel walls, which makes it easier for plaque (fatty deposits) to build up in arteries, narrowing the passageways and causing blockages that can lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Diabetes increases the likelihood of clot formation, which can further block blood flow in the artery.
  • Blood vessels of diabetic patients are more susceptible to injury from other risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. More than 90 percent of diabetes patients have one or more of these additional risk factors.
  • Some research shows that those with diabetes have an increased level of low-grade inflammation in the linings of their arteries, a process that starts blood vessel changes that lead to heart disease.
Preventing Diabetes

Heart disease is not inevitable among people with diabetes. The best way to prevent or delay the development of significant cardiovascular disease is to prevent diabetes itself. If you have diabetes, you can also control many of the risk factors for heart disease by:

  • Losing a modest amount of weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Controlling your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Diabetic Heart Disease Treatment at BIDMC 

If you are diabetic and have been diagnosed with heart disease, there are many options for treatment, depending on the severity of heart disease. Treatments may include:

  • Aspirin therapy to reduce the risk of blood clots and strokes
  • Changes in diet, including more fruits, vegetables, fiber and fish
  • Exercise and weight loss to improve blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Medications, including those for blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Revascularization (re-establishment of adequate blood flow within the artery), including angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) based on your needs.

Learn More

The CVI’s Diabetic Heart Disease Program is a joint initiative with Joslin Diabetes Center, offering patients a full range of cardiac evaluation, testing and advanced treatment options.

Diabetic Heart Disease Program