How Diabetes Affects Your Heart

You know about diabetes and you know about heart disease, but did you know that if you have diabetes, you’re twice as likely to die from heart attack or stroke? That’s because high blood glucose levels damage nerves and blood vessels.

Among adults with diabetes:

  • 71% have blood pressure at or above 140/90 or used prescription medications to lower high blood pressure (2009-2012, CDC).
  • 65% have an LDL cholesterol level of 100 mg/dl or higher or used cholesterol-lowering medications (2009-2012, CDC).
  • hospitalization rates for heart attack are 1.8 times higher (2010, CDC).
  • cardiovascular disease death rates are about 1.7 times higher (2003-2006, CDC).
  • hospitalization rates for stroke are 1.5 times higher (2010, CDC).

According to the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), you can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke by managing your ABCs:

A – A1C Test – This blood test averages your blood sugar level over the course of three months so you can see if you’re staying within your target zone.

B – Blood Pressure – Try to keep your blood pressure below 140/80 unless your doctor recommends a different target.

C – Cholesterol – LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) should be below 100 mg/dL, HDL (the good kind) should be above 40 if you’re a man and above 50 if you’re a woman. Triglycerides should be below 150, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearing House (NDIC).

S – Stop Smoking - Smoking doubles the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you need to take insulin by injection or pump. Some people with type 2 diabetes also need to take insulin or other medications. Lifestyle is important, too. Here are some tips from the NDEP:

Questions for your health care team:

  • What can I do to lower my chances of getting heart disease?
  • What should my goals be for A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol?
  • What can I do to reach these goals?
  • Should I take medicine that can protect my heart such as aspirin or a statin?

Eat well. Choose:

  • foods high in fiber such as whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, lentils, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
  • foods with heart-healthy fats such as fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado.
  • foods low in saturated and transfats such as lean meat, chicken without the skin, fish, and non-fat or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • oils instead of butter, cream, shortening, lard, or stick margarine for cooking.


  • Limit desserts such as cookies and ice cream to only once or twice a week.
  • Eat smaller amounts of foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt. For example, if you want french fries, order the kid-sized portion.
  • Bake, broil, or grill food instead of frying.
  • Don’t add salt to food.

Cope with stress as best you can.

  • Ask for help if you feel down. Talk to a mental health counselor, member of the clergy, friend, or family member who will listen to your concerns.
  • Tell your family members and friends how they can best help and support you.

Take your medicine as directed.

Be active for 30 minutes or more each day. Itís okay to be active for 10 minutes at a time, 3 times a day.

Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke.

  • Signs of a heart attack may include pressure, squeezing, fullness, and pain in the chest or upper body. You may also have shortness of breath.
  • The signs of a heart attack for a woman may be different than a man. Signs for a woman can include nausea and vomiting, being tired all the time (sometimes for days), and pain in the back, shoulders, and jaw.
  • Signs of a stroke may include weakness on one side and trouble walking, seeing, or speaking.
  • Call 9-1-1 right away if you think you are having a heart attack or stroke. Acting fast can save your life.

Types of Diabetes

Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin helps turn sugar (glucose) into energy to be distributed to cells throughout our bodies. Without insulin, our cells become starved for energy. We can’t live without it.

Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent diabetes, juvenile-onset diabetes) can occur at any age, but is usually diagnosed in children. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is damaged and can no longer produce insulin. The cause is unknown, so there’s no way to prevent it. About 5% of diagnosed cases of diabetes are type 1.

Type 2 diabetes happens when your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or your body can’t use it effectively. Type 2 diabetes can also occur at any age, but is more common in adults. Unfortunately, the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children and teens is rising. About 90-95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes are type 2. Risk increases with age. Other risk factors include family history of diabetes, gestational diabetes, obesity, and physical inactivity.

Gestational diabetes happens during pregnancy and may go away on its own after childbirth. Having gestational diabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later.

Prediabetes is a condition in which you have elevated glucose levels, but they’re not high enough for a diagnoses of diabetes. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop diabetes, but it does put you at greater risk. Dietary changes, along with increased exercise may be able to delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Among the other potential complications of diabetes are:

  • hypoglycemia
  • diabetic ketoacidosis
  • eye problems, blindness
  • kidney disease
  • circulation problems, amputation
  • nerve disease
  • hearing loss
  • complications of pregnancy

About 29.1 million Americans have diabetes. That’s about 9.3% of our population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 8.1 million people don’t know they have diabetes.

Related Reading
Giant Breakthrough in Quest to Cure Type 1 Diabetes
Diabetes in the Family: Why Itís Your Problem, Too (video)
6 Signs You’re Having a Heart Attack

Post Photo: monkeybusinessimages | iStock | Thinkstock
Infographic courtesy of the National Diabetes Education Program


Kathleen G
Kathleen G9 months ago

After my DIABETES TYPE 2 diagnosis, I had typical symptoms of thirst, lethargy, severe tiredness, urinary frequency, hearing loss and ringing in the ears, vision problems, dehydration and weight gain. I was placed on metformin twice daily for several months, the symptoms only seemed to worsened. I began to do a lot of research and learnt about a DIABETES HERBAL TREATMENT from Rich Herbs Foundation and their success rate with the Diabetes treatment, i immediately started on the treatment, i started experience decline in major symptoms, the severe thirst, dry mouth, tiredness, urinary problems, dehydration and fatigue. My doctor took me off the metformin and other medications i was placed after the diabetes herbal treatment. Visit rich herbs foundation w w w. richherbsfoundation. c o m. I did another blood test after the treatment, i am diabetes free. I have also lost over 35 pounds since treatment.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe2 years ago

I had a heart attack in 2009. A year later, I found out I had diabetes (type 2). I am now on several medications to prevent another one!! So far, so good. I am eating healthier and limiting certain things from my diet. My A1C tests are coming out much better, so I must be doing something right. I just hope I never have to go on Insulin like my sister - that looks painful to inject.

Susan R.
.4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

Rhonda B.
Rhonda B4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Julie D.
Julie D4 years ago

Diabetes is such a mean disease and effects so many different body systems.

Aaron Bouchard
Aaron Bouchard4 years ago

thank you

Miriam O.

Thank you for sharing and posting!

Miriam O.

Thank you for sharing and posting!