Diabetes and Heart Disease 101

People with diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease because having diabetes can damage your blood vessels, so your heart has to work harder. In addition, if your arteries become damaged, it's easier for fatty deposits to build up and keep blood from getting to the heart. However, you can take control and prevent heart disease. Find out about the symptoms of heart disease and read up on tips for prevention and treatment. If you have heart disease, you can use the same tips to help reduce your risk for future problems and increase your odds of enjoying a long and healthy life.

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If you have diabetes, you are automatically at increased risk for heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease. However, heart disease is not inevitable, and people with diabetes can reduce their risk by knowing the risk factors and following a healthy lifestyle.

The broad definition of heart disease is any disorder that keeps your heart from functioning normally. The most common type of heart disease that relates to diabetes is coronary heart disease, also called coronary artery disease.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Simply having diabetes can damage your blood vessels, including the arteries that supply blood to both your heart and your brain. This damage makes it easier for fatty deposits to build up and prevent blood from getting through. When not enough blood makes it to an area of the heart, you can have a heart attack; when not enough blood reaches an area of your brain, you can have a stroke. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 65 percent of all diabetes-related deaths are caused by a heart attack or stroke. Also, if members of your family have heart disease, you are at increased risk.

Although more research is needed, previous studies have shown that chronic hyperglycemia causes damage to the body's small blood vessels and capillaries (a condition called microangiopathy). This damage can combine with other diabetes complications such as atherosclerosis to increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. The exact mechanism by which diabetes damages larger blood vessels is uncertain, but some studies suggest that in a person with diabetes, the cells that repair the blood vessels don't function properly. Additionally, the blood is thicker and may clot too easily, thus reducing or blocking circulation.

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