The Connection Between Diabetes and Heart Disease

hands holding a rubber heart and a glucose monitor

Diabetes can have a serious impact on your health, especially on your heart.

Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes, according to the American Heart Association.

“The link between diabetes and heart health is real,” said Nisha Jhalani, MD, Director of the CRF Women’s Heart Health Initiative and Director of Inpatient Clinical Services at the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Heart disease affects people with diabetes at a younger age. And the longer someone has diabetes, the more likely they are to develop heart disease.”

Atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, develops differently in people with diabetes. Diabetes can make your blood more prone to clotting or plaque rupture, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Diabetes also influences your cholesterol. The negative effects of LDL (bad) cholesterol tend to be worse, while the protective effects of HDL (good) cholesterol are reduced.

“As the number of people diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes continues to rise, it’s critical for people with diabetes to make lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk of heart disease and improve the quality of their lives,” Dr. Jhalani added.

The keys to preventing heart disease in diabetes are healthy lifestyle habits and aggressive control of risk factors and symptoms. Here are some of the things you can focus on.

Don’t smoke.

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your heart, whether or not you have diabetes.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Eating a heart-healthy diet can help you lose weight and reduce your cholesterol.

Get moving.

Don’t go more than two days without getting some type of physical activity. You should aim to get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. For weekend warriors, try to get at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity.

Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Vigorous blood pressure control has a greater impact in preventing heart events in people with diabetes than in people without diabetes.

Talk to your doctor about diabetes medications.

  • Metformin is the first line of defense. Used to control high blood sugar, metformin can also help control weight and reduce insulin resistance.
  • Second-line treatments like SGLT-2 inhibitors and GLP-1 inhibitors have a proven cardiovascular benefit.

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