How does diabetes affect my risk of heart disease or stroke?

If you have diabetes, you're prone to having too much glucose (sugar) in your blood. This extra blood glucose can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk for heart attack, stroke and other health problems. In fact, about 2/3 of people with diabetes die from a heart attack or stroke. Controlling your blood glucose levels can help prevent these and other complications.

Even if you don't have diabetes, your blood glucose levels may be higher than normal—a condition often called prediabetes. Studies show that regular exercise, a healthy diet and reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce blood glucose levels and delay diabetes—or even prevent it.

People with diabetes have a higher-than-average risk of having a heart attack or stroke. These strike people with diabetes more than twice as often as people without diabetes.

There's a big link between diabetes, heart disease and stroke. In fact, two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke, also called cardiovascular disease. Clogged blood vessels can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other problems.

"Clot-busting" drugs must be given within hours after a heart attack or stroke to minimize damage. That's why it's important to call for help if you're having symptoms.

There are several options for surgical treatment of blocked blood vessels, including:

  • Angioplasty, also called balloon angioplasty, is used to remove a blockage in a blood vessel. A small tube with a balloon attached is inserted into an artery and threaded into an artery leading to the heart or the brain. Then the balloon is inflated, opening the narrowed artery. A wire tube, called a stent, may be left in place to help keep the artery open.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft, also called a bypass or CABG (pronounced "cabbage"), is used when arteries are still blocked after an angioplasty. A blood vessel taken from the leg, wrist, or chest is attached to the coronary artery to bypass a blockage and restore blood flow to the heart.
  • Carotid artery surgery is used to remove build ups of fat inside the artery and to restore blood flow to the brain.

Treatments following a heart attack or stroke also may include a supervised exercise program, personalized meal plan or rehabilitation such as speech therapy if you've had a stroke. Quitting smoking and losing weight if needed will also help. You may need medicines as well to manage the ABCs (A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol) of diabetes to prevent future events.

The link between diabetes and heart disease is very strong. An adult diagnosed with diabetes has the same high cardiac risk as someone who has already had a heart attack. Everyone with diabetes, regardless of type or when it was diagnosed, has reason for concern. At least 65 percent of people with diabetes will die from some type of cardiovascular disease—a death rate that is two to four times that of the general population.

Many experts suspect that the long-term elevated blood sugar and low-grade inflammation seen in diabetes damage the coronary arteries, speeding the process of atherosclerosis. Heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems are not only more common in people with diabetes, but they occur earlier in life and are more likely to be fatal than in people without diabetes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.