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Diabetes Complications: Heart Disease and Stroke

For people with type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke are the number 1 causes of death and disability. Here's what you can do about this diabetes complication.

At least 65 percent of people with diabetes die of some form of heart disease or stroke, according to the American Heart Association. By controlling your risk factors, you can avoid or delay cardiovascular disease (heart and blood vessel disease).

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Having diabetes or pre-diabetes puts you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. You can lower your risk by keeping your blood glucose (also called blood sugar), blood pressure, and blood cholesterol close to the recommended target numbers—the levels suggested by diabetes experts for good health. (For more information about target numbers for people with diabetes, see "How will I know whether I have heart disease?".) Reaching your targets also can help prevent narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels in your legs, a condition called peripheral arterial disease. You can reach your targets by

  • choosing foods wisely
  • being physically active
  • taking medications if needed

If you have already had a heart attack or a stroke, taking care of yourself can help prevent future health problems.


 

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Connection Between Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke

Cross Section ImageIf you have diabetes, you are at least twice as likely as someone who does not have diabetes to have heart disease or a stroke. People with diabetes also tend to develop heart disease or have strokes at an earlier age than other people. If you are middle-aged and have type 2 diabetes, some studies suggest that your chance of having a heart attack is as high as someone without diabetes who has already had one heart attack. Women who have not gone through menopause usually have less risk of heart disease than men of the same age. But women of all ages with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease because diabetes cancels out the protective effects of being a woman in her child-bearing years.

People with diabetes who have already had one heart attack run an even greater risk of having a second one. In addition, heart attacks in people with diabetes are more serious and more likely to result in death. High blood glucose levels over time can lead to increased deposits of fatty materials on the insides of the blood vessel walls. These deposits may affect blood flow, increasing the chance of clogging and hardening of blood vessels (atherosclerosis).

Last Updated: 19 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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