Health & Wellness

Diabetes Can Affect Your Heart

Diabetes and heart disease often go hand-in-hand. In fact, adults with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those without it.

a doctor holding a red papercut heart shape

Be Aware, Take Control

Those affected by all types of diabetes are still at risk of developing heart disease, even if blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are managed. 

The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which develops over time as the arteries that supply blood to the heart fill with plaque. Plaque, which is made up of cholesterol and other substances, causes the arteries to harden. The medical term for this is atherosclerosis. When plaque continues to build, the arteries narrow, therefore reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This causes the heart muscle to weaken, increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and even heart failure. 

Three Ways to Decrease Your Risk for Heart Disease

Work with your health care team

Together you’ll  manage your diabetes and risk of cardiovascular disease.

Know your numbers

Keep track of your blood glucose (blood sugar) and blood pressure levels along with your weight. Let your health care team know if you see changes or trends of higher or lower results.

Live a healthy lifestyle

Exercise regularly and make healthy food choices. Diabetes Food Hub® is an excellent resource for healthy recipes and tools to create shopping lists with items you can purchase through the site.

Recognize the Symptoms of Heart Disease

If you have prediabetes or type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you should be aware of the symptoms of heart disease, including: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting or near fainting
  • Fluttering in your chest
  • Chest pain, also known as angina, including feelings of chest tightness or pressure
  • Slow heartbeat 
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness 
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Fast heartbeat, not due to a temporary increase in physical activity
  • Numbness or weakness in your legs
  • Neck, jaw, throat, back, or upper abdomen pain
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

Talk With Your Health Care Team

Describe all your symptoms as accurately as possible and be honest about your lifestyle. Keep a log of your activities and eating habits.

When you visit your primary care physician, cardiologist, diabetes educator, or endocrinologist, come prepared with questions such as:

  • How often should my heart health be checked?
  • What lifestyle changes would you advise?
  • Do I need to lose weight? Should I change my eating plan?
  • If you’re taking medication: What side effects should I be aware of?

Testing for Cardiovascular Disease

Based on your symptoms, your doctor may request any of these outpatient tests to evaluate your risk of heart disease:

Electrocardiograms (EKG)

Electrocardiograms (EKG) monitor your heart's electrical signals to check if your heart rate and rhythms are average. The test may reveal if you have heart enlargement due to high blood pressure or if you've had a heart attack in the past.

Like electrocardiograms, Holter monitoring checks for heart irregularities through a chest monitor over a 24-hour period. 

Echocardiograms produce images of your heart beating and pumping blood. Your doctor will be able to evaluate your heart valves and chambers to make sure they're functioning normally.

Stress tests

Stress tests monitor how your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing respond when you in-crease your activity levels. 

Cardiac computerized tomography (CT)

Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scans use x-rays to compile a three-dimensional, high-quality picture of your heart and blood vessels. Your doctor will look for any signs of decreased blood flow and oxygen (ischemia) due to plaque buildup or blockages in your coronary arteries.

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is another way to produce detailed images of your heart and its vessels without the use of radiation. It allows your doctor to evaluate the anatomy and function of your heart and its vessels to detect any blockages.

Medications prescribed by your doctor

Take medications prescribed by your doctor to reduce the risk of heart disease.

If needed, you and your doctor will create a medication plan based on your individualized assessment, metabolic goals, and test results to reduce heart disease risk. 

New Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs not only lower blood sugar, but reduce the risk of heart disease as well. 

“Two medications have come out within the last five years. Recent trials show that these are much more beneficial for people with atherosclerotic coronary vascular disease (the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls), heart disease, or heart failure. There are two classifications of medications: SGLT2 Inhibitors and GLP1 agonists.” —Seth Kluzwicz, SP, MD

Want to know more? Listen to Medication Management for a Happy Heart.