The Relationship Between Diabetes and Heart Disease – A Guide

Posted by Prescription Hope - See Editorial Guidelines (Last Updated On: Fri Jul 14 2023)

Diabetes is an illness that affects all aspects of one’s life. The CDC states that those with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or stroke. So, in this article, we will discuss more specifically how diabetes affects the heart. Here’s a quick overview before diving in. How Does Diabetes Affect the Heart? High blood sugar caused by diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels and nerves responsible for controlling the heart. If your diabetes is not managed well, then your risk for heart problems becomes higher and more severe. Lifestyle factors on top of diabetes can also contribute to a person experiencing problems with their heart. Now that you have a brief understanding, here’s everything you need to know about diabetes and your heart.  

Overview of Heart Disease

Diabetes and Heart Disease Heart disease, sometimes referred to as cardiovascular disease, covers a wide variety of different problems associated with the heart. These problems may consist of coronary artery disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, angina (chest pain), and rheumatic heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, as it accounts for about a million deaths each year. The majority of the people that die from heart disease are over the age of 65. The symptoms of heart disease will vary depending on the type of problem the individual is contending with. In some cases, individuals have no signs of heart disease. The first symptom a person might have is a heart attack. Here are symptoms of heart disease:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Squeezing or pressure in the chest
  • Pain that starts in or spreads to other parts of the upper body (e. one or both arms)
  • Chest discomfort combined with lightheadedness, nausea, or fainting
  • Severe indigestion that does not go away with antacids
The causes of heart disease will vary depending on the specific type of heart condition you have. However, common causes of heart disease include:
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Excessive caffeine use
  • Drug abuse
  • Stress
  • Diabetes
As you can see, lifestyle choices play a significant role in your risk of having heart disease. For example, having a lifestyle where you maintain a poor diet and remain inactive puts you at risk for obesity. Obesity then puts you at a higher risk for high blood pressure and diabetes. But what exactly is the relationship between diabetes and heart disease?

Relationship Between Diabetes and Heart Disease

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 70% of people with diabetes older than 65 die from a heart-related problem. Another 16% die from stroke. So, this makes it clear that there is a relationship between diabetes and heart disease. The primary relationship between diabetes and heart disease lies within the arteries. Diabetes and Heart Disease High blood sugar, caused by diabetes, can damage blood vessels and arteries, making them hard and stiff. The hardening of the arteries is due to fat deposits, also called plaque, building up in the arteries. The plaque decreases blood flow significantly and can even completely block blood flow. The lack of blood flow to the heart can result in chest pain and even a potential heart attack. Therefore, uncontrolled diabetes that results in glucose remaining in the bloodstream over time will result in heart problems. Having diabetes, along with other health problems, can increase your risk for heart disease even farther. Here are other factors that can increase your risk of heart disease if you have diabetes.

High Blood Pressure

One of the most common risk factors for heart disease is high blood pressure when combined with diabetes. High blood pressure places more stress on your heart and causes more damage to your blood vessels. This is because the body’s circulatory system is having to work much harder to push blood throughout the body. Many things can cause high blood pressure, including genetics, age, diet, stress, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise. A person can manage their blood pressure through medication, changes in their diet, and regular exercise.


Obesity is a major contributing factor for type 2 diabetes. Carrying around excess weight can also contribute to high blood pressure. Thus, obesity leads to a higher risk of both diabetes and heart disease. Individuals can lessen their risk of health complications by losing weight. You can lose weight by adjusting your diet and avoiding foods that are high in carbs and saturated fats. Getting active will also help greatly in losing weight.

Poor Cholesterol Levels

People that have diabetes are more likely to have inadequate levels of cholesterol. Too much LDL (bad cholesterol) and not enough HDL (good cholesterol) can lead to plaque buildup in blood vessels. As mentioned above, this plaque buildup can lead to chest pain and a potential heart attack or stroke. Genetics do play a significant role in determining a person’s cholesterol levels, but you can still make adjustments to improve levels.


If you smoke and have diabetes, then your risk for heart disease rises significantly. Smoking also increases the buildup of plaque in the arteries. So, if you also smoke, then the plaque buildup can increase exponentially. Smoking can also cause your diabetes to become uncontrolled, leading to more complications. If you smoke and have diabetes, then you should talk to your doctor about how you can stop smoking to decrease your risk of heart disease.

How to Take Care of Your Heart with Diabetes

Keeping your heart healthy when you have diabetes can be difficult, but it is possible. One of the first steps in taking care of your heart when you have diabetes is setting goals. You must have specific goals to know where you are versus where you want and need to be health-wise. The main focus when it comes to this is taking care of your diabetes. If you take care of your diabetes condition, then your heart will be healthier. You will start to see other areas of your life improve with proper diabetes management. If you are taking steps to improve your blood sugar levels, then that means you should be incorporating a proper diet, as well as regular exercise into your daily life. All of this allows for improved cholesterol levels, decreased blood pressure, and promotes weight loss. Dietary tips for taking care of your diabetes and heart consist of:
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and quality protein.
  • Avoid foods that have high amounts of sodium, added sugar, and fat.
  • Lower your carbohydrate intake
  • Talk to a nutritionist
Other tips for taking care of your diabetes and heart:
  • Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes
  • Take prescribed medicine
  • Talk to your doctor about taking low dose aspirin
  • Reduce your stress levels
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
To prevent your diabetes and heart conditions from becoming worse, you should have regular check-ups with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to accurately measure your HbA1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Regular check-ups to measure these levels will give you and your doctor a better understanding of whether or not your health is going in the right direction.

How to be Tested for Heart Disease

Diabetes and Heart Disease Once your doctor has an overall view of what your health looks like, they may order you to be tested for heart disease. Your doctor will look at your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight to determine if you need to be tested. There are a few different ways that you can be tested for heart disease. Here are the following tests that may be performed:
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – This is a test that measures the electrical activity of your heart through small patches that attach to different parts of your body.
  • Echocardiogram (echo) – This test uses sound waves (ultrasound) to capture pictures of your heart and the blood vessels attached to the heart.
  • Exercise stress test (treadmill test) – This is a test that determines how well your heart handles a workload.

How Heart Disease is Treated in Those With Diabetes

Heart disease in those with diabetes can be treated in a few different ways. The treatment you receive will depend on the severity of your condition. If heart problems are discovered early on, then your treatment may just consist of lifestyle changes, such as changes to your diet and exercising more often. Doing this may prevent you from needing farther intervention down the road while also decreasing your risk of a life-threatening heart problem. Regardless of the severity of your condition, changes to your diet, and adding physical activity to your daily life will improve your quality of life. It will improve your insulin sensitivity and help you gain better control over your blood sugar levels. Thus, preventing farther complications associated with diabetes. Aspirin is another common treatment option for those with both heart disease and diabetes. Aspirin has been proven to reduce the risks of blood clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes. This over-the-counter medicine is relatively inexpensive, making it an easy treatment option. However, you should talk to your doctor about the potential side effects before taking it. Prescription medications may also be given as a treatment option. It is important to note here that some medicines may either interfere with your diabetes medicines or may cause unwarranted blood sugar changes. The last treatment option for heart disease in those with diabetes is surgery. The surgery you need will depend on your specific heart problem. Having surgery when you have diabetes can be dangerous. Those with diabetes are more prone to slow-healing and have an increased risk of infections. Your blood sugar levels can also become uncontrolled due to surgery. Therefore, talk to your doctor about proper steps that you should take to keep your diabetes managed through surgery and during recovery.


We hope this has given you a better understanding of how diabetes affects your heart. If you are any doubt about your condition, then consult your doctor. If you are having trouble affording any of the prescription medications that you need, then contact Prescription Hope. We work with pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide individuals with the medications they need at a set, affordable cost. Enroll with us and start paying just $60.00 a month through Prescription Hope’s medication access service for each prescribed med.