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Heart Complications

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

Type 2 diabetes can lead to serious heart complications. If you have diabetes, you are more likely to have heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and disease of the blood vessels. Because of this, those with diabetes have a greater chance of a heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease

Heart disease is also called cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular means heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular). Coronary heart disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease and is the leading cause of death in the United States and worldwide.1-4

CAD develops when fat and cholesterol deposits, called plaque, build up in the arteries. This makes the arteries more narrow, and the blood vessel walls thicker and less flexible.1-4

Cholesterol and triglycerides

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is made in your liver and found in your blood. There are 2 kinds of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, and HDL is sometimes called “good” cholesterol.5

Another type of fat in your body is triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides can also raise your risk of developing heart disease and stroke.5

If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may have you take a statin drug. Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs that help lower LDL and triglyceride levels, as well as improve HDL levels. There are other potential benefits of taking statins. Talk to your doctor to learn more about this class of drug.5

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Peripheral vascular disease and peripheral artery disease

The arteries and veins that carry blood throughout your body are collectively your vascular system. Any disease of the vascular system outside of the heart is known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD).6,7

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of PVD. Veins carry oxygen-rich blood from the rest of the body to the heart, while your arteries bring this blood from the heart to the rest of the body. PAD occurs only in the arteries. It inhibits return blood flow, resulting in extremities that suffer from the decreased blood supply. PAD is caused by a build-up of plaque in the arteries.7

PAD and its complications can increase the likelihood of the development of chronic or non-healing wounds. Symptoms of PAD include those related to decreased blood flow, mainly to the legs and feet. PAD is managed with various treatments, including:7

  • Medicines – This includes drugs to control blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Your doctor may prescribe drugs that thin your blood.
  • Angioplasty – In this procedure, your doctor will thread a small hollow tube through a blood vessel to the diseased artery. A small balloon on the tip of the catheter is inflated to push open the artery and flatten the blockage and stretch the artery open.
  • Surgery – Bypass surgery involves using another vessel from your body or a human-made blood vessel. Your doctor will use this other vessel to bypass or move around the diseased artery.

Cerebrovascular disease

Cerebrovascular disease means disease of the brain blood vessels. About 20 to 40 percent of people with diabetes have cerebrovascular disease. Stroke is a type of cerebrovascular disease. High blood pressure, cholesterol, and plaque formation contribute to the development of cerebrovascular disease and stroke.8,9

High blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a serious condition that impacts millions worldwide. Nearly 1 in 3 American adults and 2 in 3 adults with diabetes report having high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and many other conditions. Your heart works harder to pump when your blood pressure is high, leading to serious complications.10

Healthy blood pressure is below 120/80. You may need medicine to help keep your blood pressure at an acceptable level. Talk to your doctor about the type of treatment best for you.10

Prevention and lifestyle changes

Your daily choices and lifestyle are vital to treating heart complications due to type 2 diabetes. Making more heart-healthy choices may lower your risk. This includes:1-4,9

  • Healthy eating habits
  • Exercising more and being more active
  • Managing your weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Improving your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Daily management of your diabetes, including blood sugar control

Talk to your doctor

Partnering with your doctor about your diabetes and heart health will help you get the care you need. Discuss any symptoms or concerns you may have, including those about drugs prescribed to manage your conditions. Your doctor may also help you get the resources you need to address the lifestyle changes you might want to make. You may need more frequent visits or monitoring from home.

For additional information on heart disease and diabetes, visit our Heart Health hub.