Cerebrovascular Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2021.

About 20 to 40 percent of people with type 2 diabetes have cerebrovascular disease. Diabetic cerebrovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in people with diabetes.1

What is cerebrovascular disease?

Cerebrovascular disease refers to disease of the blood vessels in the brain. The most common cerebrovascular disease is stroke. Stroke is a life-threatening condition that needs emergency treatment.1

How is my risk increased with diabetes?

Atherosclerosis is the main contributing factor of cerebrovascular disease and stroke in those with type 2 diabetes. Atherosclerosis is a buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances inside and on your artery walls.1,2

This buildup, known as plaque, can restrict blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to the organs. Sometimes the plaque can burst, which triggers a blood clot and can block the blood flow to the brain.2

Another reason that diabetes may increase your risk of stroke is high blood sugar. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can have serious health complications. Too much sugar in the blood is like tiny pieces of sharp glass that can tear and damage your blood vessels. This can lead to blood vessel complications, including stroke.2

How is stroke diagnosed?

If you are showing signs of stroke, your doctor will gather information to diagnose the condition. Tests or exams that may be performed include:3

  • Medical history. Your doctor will review your medical history, including your current medicines, past illnesses and surgeries, and any family history that may be relevant.
  • Physical exam. This includes a neurological exam, which will help your doctor figure out what is causing your symptoms.
  • Imaging tests. CT or MRI scans may be used to give a detailed picture of the brain, similar to X-ray.

How can I lower my risk?

Luckily, if you have type 2 diabetes and are at an increased risk of stroke, there are things you can do to lower your risk.

Lifestyle changes

Based on research, there are certain lifestyle choices you can make if you have type 2 diabetes. Making more heart-healthy choices may lower your risk. This includes:4


As part of your treatment plan, your doctor may recommend certain drugs to help prevent stroke and promote heart health.

Statins are a group of drugs that are used to lower your cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that those who are 40 years old or older with diabetes should take a statin to prevent heart disease and stroke. Talk to your doctor about when you should begin statin therapy.5

Aspirin helps prevent blood clots from forming in your blood vessels, which may lower your risk of stroke. Your doctor can give you more information about whether taking aspirin daily is a good choice for you. While there may be benefits to taking aspirin daily, there are also potentially serious complications. You should not start taking aspirin every day before talking to your doctor.6


Stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment. Depending on the type of stroke you have, your medical history, and other factors, treatment will vary. Many people need help with muscle conditioning and speech after a stroke. Treatment may include:4

  • Drugs to thin the blood and break up clots
  • Surgery, as needed
  • Additional help with physical or speech therapy, if needed

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