Heart and Blood Vessels

What is the connection between Diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

Your cardiovascular system consists of your heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in people with Diabetes. Having Diabetes puts you at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease which includes heart disease, stroke and all other diseases of the heart and circulation. Many people with Diabetes also have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including having a history of cardiovascular disease, having a family history of cardiovascular disease, central obesity, abnormal blood cholesterol (fat), high blood pressure, and smoking.

Blood vessels allow blood to circulate and supply the body with oxygen and nutrients. High blood sugar levels over time can lead to increased deposits of fatty materials on the insides of the blood vessel walls. These deposits may lead to clogging and hardening of blood vessels (atherosclerosis) leading to serious health problems due to restricted blood flow to organs. Narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart can cause a heart attack. If this happens to a blood vessel leading to the brain it may cause a stroke. Narrowing or blockage of blood vessels in the legs (and sometimes arms) is known as peripheral artery disease and can increase the chance of gangrene and amputation.

Heart disease:

Interruption of blood supply to the heart due to narrowing or blockage of blood vessels can lead to angina (chest pain or tightness), a heart attack (myocardial infarction), or sudden death due to a sudden abrupt loss of heart function. 


A stroke happens when blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted, most commonly a result of a blocked blood vessel, leading to brain tissue damage. A stroke may also be caused by a bleeding blood vessel in the brain due to high blood pressure. Transient ischemic attacks (TIA), also called a mini stroke, are caused by a temporary blockage of blood vessels flow which causes one or more of warning signs of a stroke that disappear quickly.  The occurrence of TIAs means that you may be at risk for a future stroke.

Warning signs of a heart attack Warning signs of a stroke
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in your arms, back, jaw, shoulders, or neck
  • Indigestion or stomach pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness
  • Sudden numbness or weakness on one side of your body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or difficulty walking
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes or sudden double vision
  • Sudden severe headache

If you have any of these warning signs, rush to get medical care immediately, do not delay. Getting prompt treatment can help prevent permanent damage to the heart and brain and increase chances for recovery

Peripheral artery disease:

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when the blood vessels that carry blood to your legs and arms are narrowed or blocked by fatty deposits decreasing blood supply. Having PAD raises the risk of amputation and increases the chances to develop a heart attack or a stroke.

Many people with Diabetes and PAD do not experience any symptoms. Some people may have leg pain when they walk or exercise. Others may have numbness or tingling in their feet or legs or have sores or wounds that heal slowly.

What can I do to prevent or control heart and blood vessel complications?

You can do a lot to prevent or delay heart and blood vessel complications. It is very important to have regular checkups. Controlling Diabetes is mostly about maintaining a healthy lifestyle in addition to taking medications. Work closely with your healthcare team to manage your Diabetes and reduce your other risk factors.

Remember to consider the following:

To reduce your risk for cardiovascular complications, manage your Diabetes by: