Diabetes and Heart Attack 101

Having diabetes increases your risk for having a heart attack, but you can counteract this risk by following a healthy lifestyle and keeping your blood sugar under control. However, it's important to know the signs of a heart attack and how they may be different in men and women, or when you have diabetes, so you can seek help immediately if needed. Check out symptoms and other factors that may compound your heart attack risk and how to manage them. Learn what to expect in terms of rehab and treatment if you do suffer a heart attack, so you can recover and enjoy a healthy future.


A heart attack is one of the most common forms of heart disease. It occurs when your arteries become clogged and not enough blood reaches your heart.

If you have diabetes, you are at increased risk for a heart attack, even if you are in great health and your blood sugar is under control. Why? Having diabetes can damage your blood vessels. This damage to the arteries that supply blood to the heart may make them more susceptible to blockage from fatty deposits. Also, with diabetes, the blood is thicker and clots a little more easily, while the substance in our blood that helps dissolve clots is not as effective, slowing or blocking circulation.

If you eat well, control your blood sugar, and exercise regularly, you are less likely to develop those fatty deposits. However, smoking, being overweight, and having a family history of heart attacks are risk factors for a heart attack in anyone, and any of these factors can compound your risk if you have diabetes.

Is a Heart Attack Fatal?

In the past, a heart attack was often fatal, but recognition of symptoms and access to emergency care have improved survival rates.

The key symptom of a heart attack is tightness in your chest that last for more than a few minutes. Some people have recurrent chest pain (known as angina) that occurs with activity and subsides with rest. Angina can be the earliest predictor of a heart attack, and it can occur hours, days, or weeks before an actual heart attack takes place. If you experience chest pain, see your doctor, but don't ignore other signs, including shortness of breath, sweating, fainting, or nausea. Chest pain is commonly not experienced in those with diabetes. Also, keep in mind that certain heart attack symptoms are more common in women. These include clammy skin, dizziness, fatigue, and abdominal pain that feel like heartburn.