People With Diabetes Are More Vulnerable to Heart Disease. How to Reduce the Risk

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body isn’t able to produce insulin, and Type 2 occurs when the body doesn’t use insulin correctly. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, and when it’s uncontrolled, a person’s blood sugar can jump to dangerous levels that require medical treatment.

Over time, elevated blood-sugar levels spell trouble for the entire body, says Dr. Joshua Joseph, an endocrinologist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus and an investigator with the ACCELERATE Research Group, which is working to prevent and treat diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “High levels of blood sugar damage the small and large vessels in the body,” including those around the heart, leading to heart disease, he says. Elevated glucose can also harm the nerves that control the heart.

Indeed, diabetes is correlated with a heightened risk of major adverse cardiac events, such as stroke, heart attack, and death. People with the condition are twice as likely to have a heart disease or stroke as those who don’t have diabetes, and it’s more likely to happen at a younger age. Plus, the longer people have diabetes, the more likely they are to develop heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. Here’s a look at what to know, plus expert tips on keeping your heart—and whole body—healthy.

The connection between diabetes and heart disease

People with Type 1 diabetes may have a lower risk of heart complications than those with Type 2. That’s because they’re less likely to be overweight or obese, which can increase the risk of heart problems. There’s also more research on Type 2, since it’s the most common form of the disease.

Despite some variations between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, in individuals with these conditions, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death, says Dr. Robert Gabbay, chief scientist and medical officer of the ADA. It’s not entirely clear why and how diabetes and heart disease are connected, but there are likely several factors involved.