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What is the Link Between Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease?

Recent studies have shown that people having diabetes are at an increased risk of having heart disease as well. Cardiovascular disease is today known to be a significant complication of diabetes and it is also the leading cause of death in people who have diabetes. In fact, nearly 65 percent of all diabetics die from stroke and heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, if you have diabetes, then your risk of also developing heart disease is more than almost double that of the general population. Not just the elderly, but even people under the age of 65 years who have diabetes are known to have a substantially higher risk of getting a heart attack or stroke, as well as kidney disease. Understanding the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease is the key to prevention. Furthermore, there are many things you can do to lower your risk of heart disease if you have diabetes.

What is the Link Between Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease is now proven to be a significant complication arising from diabetes. It is also one of the biggest cause of early death amongst people with diabetes. Adults who have diabetes are up to four times more likely to also have heart disease or suffer a stroke as compared to people who do not have diabetes. But, what is the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

The reason why people who have diabetes are at a higher risk of getting a cardiovascular disease is that the high blood glucose levels in people with diabetes increase the risk of a stroke, heart attack, angina, and also coronary heart disease. Over a period of time, the high glucose levels in the bloodstream can cause damage to the arteries. This damage causes the arteries to become hard and stiff. The fatty material also builds up inside these blood vessels, a condition which is referred to as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can then eventually start blocking the normal blood flow to the heart or even the brain, causing a heart attack or stroke.

People who have type 2 diabetes also tend to have lipid problems, obesity, and high blood pressure – all of which are factors that increase their risk of getting cardiovascular diseases. Smoking also doubles the risk of heart disease in diabetic patients.

Let us look at some of these factors and the role they play in both diabetes and heart disease.

High Blood Glucose Levels

Everybody knows that high blood glucose levels or blood sugar levels are linked to diabetes. However, many remain unaware that high level of blood sugar is a big risk factor that can contribute to heart disease.

The body needs sugar as an energy source and it is stored in the form of glycogen in our liver. When you have diabetes, the sugar can continue to remain in your bloodstream, leaking out from the liver into the bloodstream. This can cause damage to the blood vessels as well as the nerves that control the blood vessels, which can, over a period of time, increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

This is why it is crucial to monitor your blood sugar levels in order to manage your diabetes. You can do this through the use of a self-monitoring device that measures the level of blood sugar.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is perhaps the most common risk factor for heart disease amongst diabetics. When you have high blood pressure, it puts a lot of extra strain on your heart, often causing damage to your blood vessels. This damage can make you highly susceptible to many complications, including:

If you are suffering from diabetes and also have high blood pressure, then you are twice as likely to develop heart disease as compared to people who don’t have diabetes.
The best way to prevent heart disease while having both diabetes and high blood pressure is to control your blood pressure by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The first step you can take towards a healthier lifestyle is to have a healthy diet that includes plenty of green leafy vegetables and fruits. Exercising regularly and taking the medications prescribed by your doctor in a timely manner are also important.

High Levels of Blood Fats

High levels of blood fats such as triglycerides and cholesterol are commonly found in diabetics. Poorly managed levels of these lipids is also a known risk factor for heart disease. When you have high levels of the ‘bad’ cholesterol LDL and not enough levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol HDL, it causes a buildup of fatty plaque in your blood vessels that can cause blockages. This can ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke.

While in many cases cholesterol levels can be influenced by your genetics, it is nevertheless still possible to manage and improve cholesterol levels by making a healthy lifestyle choice. A regular exercise routine is also crucial to maintaining healthy lipid levels in the body.

Being Overweight or Obese

It has been noticed that people having diabetes are often overweight or obese. Obesity is another factor that increases the risk of having cardiovascular disease. Obesity is known to influence your blood pressure, the levels of blood sugar, and even your cholesterol levels. This is why maintaining a healthy weight is important to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

To effectively lose weight, you can discuss with a dietitian or your doctor to come up with a diet plan that will be healthy for you and will also limit your intake of sugar, trans-fats, sodium, and saturated fats. Having a regular exercise schedule is also an important step to take towards achieving a healthy weight and to maintain it.


If you have diabetes then smoking is a sure shot way of increasing your risk for getting heart disease as well. Diabetes combined with cigarette smoke creates a buildup of harmful plaque in your arteries, causing them to narrow. This narrowing can cause a variety of problems, such as heart attack, stroke, and foot problems. In the case of diabetics, foot problems can often even lead to amputation. This is why it is so important for diabetics to quit smoking.


As discussed, these are the primary factors that establish a connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Now that you aware of the risk factors, it is time to take action and take a step towards a healthier lifestyle. By eating right, staying active, managing your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, you can cut down your risk of having heart disease significantly. These steps will also help you improve your heart health.

Also Read:


  1. Barrett-Connor, E., 2003. Diabetes and heart disease. Diabetes Care, 26(10), pp.2947-2958.
  2. Buse, J.B., Ginsberg, H.N., Bakris, G.L., Clark, N.G., Costa, F., Eckel, R., Fonseca, V., Gerstein, H.C., Grundy, S., Nesto, R.W. and Pignone, M.P., 2007. Primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases in people with diabetes mellitus: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Circulation, 115(1), pp.114-126.
  3. Cdc.gov. (2018). Conditions That Increase Risk for Heart Disease | cdc.gov. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/conditions.htm [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].
  4. EverydayHealth.com. (2018). Heart Disease: The Diabetes Connection. [online] Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/heart-disease-and-diabetes.aspx [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018].
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 20, 2018

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