4 Things to Know About Diabetic Heart Disease

If you have diabetes, you’re at risk of developing the condition.

Medically reviewed in November 2021

The close association between diabetes and heart disease is well documented: Diabetes and prediabetes are listed among the top risk factors for coronary artery disease, and heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of death for people with diabetes.

Heart disease is so prevalent in patients with diabetes that it has its own term, “diabetic heart disease.” Here are four things to know about this condition:

1. People with diabetes develop heart disease at a younger age
Everyone’s risk of heart disease increases as they age. According to information published by The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, men have an increased risk of heart disease after age 45, and women after 55. But for men and women with diabetes, risk increases after age 40.

A retrospective study that looked at data collected from 9 million adults (379,000 of that population had diabetes) found that adults with diabetes transitioned to “high cardiovascular risk” approximately fifteen years earlier than those without diabetes. High cardiovascular risk is defined as a greater than 20% chance of having a cardiac event within ten years.

2. Women have a greater risk of diabetic heart disease
Both women and men with diabetes are at a significantly greater risk of developing coronary heart disease, but women are at a greater risk than men. Research shows that women with diabetes have roughly a 45% greater chance of developing coronary heart disease and a 25% greater chance of having a stroke.

There are several theories for this increased risk, including that women are under-diagnosed and undertreated for heart disease, and that women have a longer pre-diabetic state—where glucose levels are elevated but are not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes—that allows cardiovascular damage to progress unnoticed. Most likely, the increased risk for women is the result of a number of factors.

3. More diabetes treatment plans are focusing on heart health
Because diabetes and cardiovascular disease are common comorbidities, some healthcare providers are advocating for a team-based approach to treating both conditions, where cardiologists—physicians who specialist in diagnosing and treating diseases of the heart and blood vessels—work with endocrinologists and other diabetes specialists to formulate treatment plans designed for better blood glucose control as well as protecting cardiovascular health.

There have also been several studies that have shown certain type 2 diabetes medications reduce the occurrence of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular causes.

4. Diet, exercise and lifestyle are paramount
While research uncovers new statistics, new risk assessments and new ways to treat diabetic heart disease, the most important recommendations for managing the condition remain the same: eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, do not smoke and see your healthcare provider regularly to monitor your health and evaluate how your treatment plan is working.

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