Understanding Diabetes Complications: Cardiovascular Health

Understanding Diabetes Complications: Cardiovascular Health: Main Image
Work with your healthcare provider to develop a cardiovascular wellness plan that includes the best-known health protections

People with diabetes may face increased risks of other diseases and health conditions. Cardiovascular conditions that may accompany or result from diabetes include coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, stroke, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease.

Coronary artery disease

Sustained high blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels, including those of the heart. People with diabetes are at least two times as likely to have heart disease and are more likely to develop heart disease at a younger age than are those without diabetes. In addition, heart attacks in people with diabetes are more likely to result in death.

Cerebrovascular disease

Blood vessels supplying the brain may also be damaged by diabetes. Temporary blockages of brain blood vessels are called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). TIAs may cause one-sided weakness, numbness, confusion, loss of balance, or severe headache. TIAs indicate that the person is more likely to have a stroke in the future.


A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, typically by a blood clot that blocks a vessel in the neck or brain. If you have diabetes, your likelihood of having a stroke is at least twice as likely as people who don’t have diabetes. As with heart disease, people with diabetes are more likely to have a stroke at an earlier age than people without diabetes.

Heart failure

People with diabetes are at least twice as likely as people without diabetes to develop heart failure—a chronic condition characterized by decreased heart-pumping efficiency and fluid build-up in the lungs and other tissues.

Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which blood flow to the legs (and, rarely, the arms) is reduced due to narrowing of the arteries. Approximately one-third of people over 50 with diabetes also have PAD, and simply having diabetes increases the risk of developing it. PAD raises the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as increasing the risk of amputation.

Make a heart-friendly plan

You may lower your risk of developing cardiovascular complications by keeping blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check and by controlling high blood pressure and weight through a combination of diet, exercise, and medications.

Work with your healthcare provider to develop a cardiovascular wellness plan. The tips below may not all be suited to everyone, so remember to run them by your doctor first.

  • Regularly monitor blood pressure and take medications, if needed, to keep blood pressure in a healthy range (below 140/80, or as specified by your doctor).
  • Take medications, such as antiplatelet drugs or aspirin, to minimize the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit the amount of salt (sodium) in your diet.
  • Lose weight or avoid weight gain.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol.
  • Keep your cholesterol in a healthy range—below 100 mg/dL for LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. HDL (“good”) cholesterol should be at least 40 mg/dL for men, and at least 50 mg/dL for women.
  • Develop a regular physical activity program, such as walking, swimming, or biking.
  • Keep your hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)—a measure of average blood sugar over two to three months—below 7%.
(National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available from URL: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/preventing-diabetes-problems/heart-disease-stroke)

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