How Can Diabetes Lead to Heart Disease?

If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you are at a higher risk of heart disease[1],[3]. Heart disease (also referred to as cardiovascular disease) may strike you at a younger age and may be more severe when it occurs.

It is believed that the duration of diabetes and the presence of additional risk factors, such as obesity, high blood cholesterol, smoking, and high blood pressure, — increase the risk of heart disease[2],[3] even more.

In addition, people with diabetes who developed cardiovascular disease tend to have less success with heart disease treatments, such as coronary artery bypass surgery (bypassing the blocked blood vessel in the heart with a healthy blood vessel taken from the arm, leg or chest) and coronary angioplasty (using a balloon to stretch or widen a blocked blood vessel in the heart).

Related: Coronary Artery Disease

Common Heart Disease Problems


What is It

What You Will Experience

Coronary heart disease

Blood flow is blocked which is a common heart disease problem

Blockage of coronary arteries (blood vessels carrying oxygen-rich blood to the heart) by plaque.

The build-up of plaque also makes it more likely for clots to form in the arteries and block blood flow to the heart.

Chest pain or discomfort

Irregular heartbeat

Heart attack

Heart failure

The heart is weak and cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. It is a serious condition that requires medical treatment.

Shortness of breath

Weak and tired

Swelling in legs, ankles, and feet

Rapid or irregular heartbeat


Heart muscle is damaged so the heart can no longer pump blood properly. It can lead to heart failure.

Symptom of heart failure

Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

While heart disease is a serious concern if you have diabetes, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of heart disease.

For example, people with Type 2 diabetes can start making minor lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight through regular physical activity and a healthy diet. You should also be diligent in taking prescribed medications to keep your blood glucose levels under control. These actions can help you prevent or control many risk factors for heart disease and protect your heart.

As heart disease is often silent, it is also very important that you follow your treatment plan and see your doctor for regular care.

Related: Heart Health – Basic Dietary Guidelines

Health Screening for Heart Disease

During a check-up, your doctor will ask you questions (including questions regarding your family history) and examine you to find out whether you have risk factors that put you at an increased risk of heart disease.

These examinations include:

  • checking your blood sugar diary
  • measuring your Body Mass Index
  • measuring your waist circumference
  • checking your blood pressure
  • taking blood samples to measure your HbA1C and blood cholesterol levels

Sometimes, your doctor may order additional screening tests such as:


What It Does

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Checks the electrical activity of your heart

Exercise treadmill test

Checks how your heart responds to the increased workload and demand for blood during exercise

Cardiac stress imaging

Checks how well blood is flowing in your heart and how well your heart pumps blood when it beats

CT coronary angiography

Checks your coronary arteries using special x–rays

These health screening tests help to identify possible heart problems for early treatment. Remember, heart problems should never be taken lightly, especially if you have diabetes.

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Read these next:


  1. Haffner, S.M., Lehto, S., Ronnemaa, T., Pyorala, K. & Laakso, M. (1998, Jul 23). Mortality from coronary heart disease in subjects with type 2 diabetes and in nondiabetic subjects with and without prior myocardial infarction. N England Journal Medicine, 339(4), 229–234.
    Retrieved from

  2. Howard, B. V., Best, L. G., Galloway, J. M., Howard, W. J., Jones, K., Lee, E. T, et al. (2006, Feb). Coronary heart disease risk equivalence in diabetes depends on concomitant risk factors. Diabetes Care. 29(2), 391–397.
    Retrieved from

  3. Ministry of Health (2012, Oct 2). Clinical Practice Guidelines [Website].
    Retrieved January 2014 from