How Diabetes Affects the Heart

Diabetic Stroke Risk

Doctors sometimes refer to strokes as brain attacks. The name calls to mind heart attacks, which is fitting since the two have much in common. Like heart attacks, strokes occur due to a sudden loss of blood circulation, in this case, to the brain. Both strokes and heart attacks are extreme -- and often deadly or debilitating -- medical emergencies. And, as with heart attacks, diabetes increases the risk of strokes. Compared to the general population, people with diabetes are two to three times more likely to suffer a stroke.

To be more precise, diabetes patients have a greatly increased risk for the most common variety of stroke. Ischemic strokes, which account for 80 to 85 percent of attacks, occur when a blood vessel to the brain becomes clogged. (Ischemia means "loss of blood flow.") They can occur due to the gradual buildup of fatty gunk on the vessel walls, the same way plaques accumulate in the arteries that feed blood to the heart. Or, a blood clot that formed somewhere else in the body may tear loose and float all the way to the brain's vessels before plugging up circulation.

The other major form of cerebrovascular disease is called a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a weak spot in one of the brain's blood vessels bursts or leaks. The resulting blood flood puts damaging pressure on the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes make up about 15 to 20 percent of all strokes, and they don't seem to be linked to diabetes.

The results can be devastating with either kind of stroke. Although your brain makes up only about 2 percent of your body weight, the thinking machine sucks up 20 percent of the body's oxygen and around 15 percent of the blood your heart pumps out. When supply routes for oxygen-rich blood are jammed, brain cells start to die. Whatever function those dying neurons govern in the body -- such as talking, walking, and swallowing -- will suffer and may be lost. Here's the clincher: Studies show that a person with diabetes is more likely to die or suffer irreversible neurological damage resulting in a permanent disability from a stroke.

The good news: If you're taking steps to cut your risk of heart disease, you're doing double duty, because the same measures also limit the risk of stroke.

Think a heart attack and heart failure are the same condition? They're not. Find out how they differ in the next section.

For more information on diabetes and its effect on the heart, try the following links:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.