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Heart Disease: The Number One Diabetes Health Risk

The most life-threatening consequence of diabetes is heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease (CVD). The statistics are staggering…

People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than someone without diabetes. In addition, once a person with diabetes has experienced a stroke, they’re just as likely to have a recurrence.

And although two-thirds of people with diabetes will die – often prematurely - from heart disease or stroke, according to the American Heart Association, most aren’t even aware that they are at an increased risk.

If you have diabetes, or someone you love has diabetes, it’s important to do everything possible to maintain a healthy heart. Check out the information below about diabetes, heart disease and cholesterol, as well as the tips for identifying and minimizing the risks associated with diabetes-related heart disease.

The Link Between Diabetes and Heart Disease

People with diabetes develop heart disease and other cardiovascular-related health problems because diabetes causes chemical changes in their blood. These changes make it easier for plaque (fatty deposits) to form on blood vessels. This is known as premature atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries where blood vessels narrow or clog up completely.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is another common condition caused by heart disease commonly experienced by people with diabetes. In PAD, plaque forms in the arteries that supply blood to the lower extremities and causes the tissue in the toes and feet to die. When this happens, amputation is usually required.

To prevent diabetes-related heart disease, it’s important to understand the factors that increase your risk, as well as what you can do to lower your chances of these types of diabetes-related complications.

Diabetes, Cholesterol and Other Heart Disease Risk Factors

Due to the chemical changes in the blood, lower than average levels of HDL (good) cholesterol are common in people with diabetes. In addition, people with diabetes often have higher levels of triglycerides, while the LDL (bad) cholesterol is more likely to clog blood vessels because the particles are smaller and denser.

The most common risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Lipid disorders (dyslipidemia)
  • High LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol
  • High triglycerides

  • Other factors that can increase your risk of heart disease if you have diabetes include smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity and insulin resistance.

    Target Cholesterol Levels For People With Diabetes

    If you have diabetes, your cholesterol levels should be in the following ranges in order to minimize the risk of heart disease:

    Target HDL Cholesterol Level

    Target LDL Cholesterol Level


    40 mg/dl

    < 100 mg/dl


    50 mg/dl

    < 100 mg/dl

    Tips For a Healthier Heart

    Maintain a normal blood sugar level: According to The New England Journal of Medicine, lowering your blood sugar level can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke nearly in half. (Browse diabetic testing supplies.)

    Exercise your heart: Whether it’s running, jogging or walking, participating in an activity that raises your heart rate on a regular basis will help keep it healthy and prevent or prolong the onset of diabetes-related heart disease. As you get started, you may want to use a heart rate monitor, pedometer with calorie counter or pocket pedometer. Be sure to check with your physician before beginning any new exercise program or routine.

    Monitor your cholesterol and triglycerides: Just like monitoring your blood sugar level is important, measuring your cholesterol and triglyceride levels is critical if you have diabetes. Luckily, you can check blood cholesterol at home with testing meters and refillable strips. Your physician can also test your cholesterol and triglyceride levels for you.

    In addition to these tips, it’s important for people with diabetes to follow a nutritious diet and maintain a healthy weight. Following these guidelines, with approval and additional recommendations from your physician, should help reduce the risk of diabetes-related health disease, help prolong your life and improve your overall health.


    American Diabetes Association –
    The New England Journal of Medicine –
    American Heart Association –
    CNN –

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