When you have diabetes, you are at high risk for getting coronary heart disease, known as CHD. In fact, diabetes is considered a CHD risk equivalent. This means that if you have diabetes, you face the same risk for heart attack, stroke and death within the next 10 years as someone who has CHD.
You are also two to four times more likely to develop CHD or suffer a stroke than people who don't have diabetes. Heart disease or stroke is the cause of death in 65 percent of those who die from diabetes-related conditions. In addition, people who have diabetes and who have a heart attack are more likely to die.
All of these facts combined make early recognition and treatment essential. That means monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol and reporting any signs of heart disease. Early signs of heart disease include chest pain, shortness of breath and extreme tiredness. Talk with your doctor to learn more.
Here's why having diabetes increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. High amounts of glucose in the blood damage your blood vessels over time. For people with type 2 diabetes, high levels of insulin in the blood may also cause damage.
This blood vessel damage can lead to other problems, such as hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. This occurs due to buildups of fatty deposits, called plaque, inside your arteries. Plaque narrows your arteries and reduces the blood flow to your heart and brain.
If plaque deposits become too large or a blood clot forms, they can totally block blood flow. If this blockage is in the vessels of your heart, it can cause a heart attack. If this blockage is in the vessels leading to your brain, it can cause you to have a stroke.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
When diabetes damages and narrows the blood vessels that supply the legs and feet, it's called peripheral vascular disease. Poor blood flow, or circulation, can lead to ulcers that do not heal and can then become infected.
The blood supply can become so bad that tissues in the legs and feet die, damaging the nerves, and resulting in the need for removing a limb, or amputation. Diabetes is the leading cause of nontraumatic lower limb amputations. If you have diabetes, your risk of having a leg removed is 15 to 40 times greater than that of someone without diabetes.
Written by Bobbie Hasselbring
Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD
Last updated June 2008