The Effects of Type 2 Diabetes on Your Heart

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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If you have type 2 diabetes, you’re probably aware of the potential consequences of the disease. Fortunately, many of those complications can be avoided by staying on top of your blood sugar levels and properly managing your diabetes. But diabetes isn’t just about blood sugar—it can also have a big impact on your heart health. According to the American Heart Association, adults with diabetes are up to four times more likely to experience complications from heart disease, which can lead to death.

If you’re one of the 29 million Americans living with type 2 diabetes, it’s more important than ever to take charge of your health to prevent heart disease. Fortunately, it’s possible to reduce your risk of serious cardiovascular complications with lifestyle changes and with your doctor’s help.

How Type 2 Diabetes Affects Your Heart

Type 2 diabetes prevents your body from using insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that reduces blood glucose levels by helping cells throughout your body to use glucose, or sugar, for energy. If your body can’t use insulin effectively, you are more at risk for heart issues, including:

  • A buildup of certain substances in your arteries and veins, including those that cause blood clots
  • Hardening and narrowing of your blood vessels
  • High blood pressure

Other Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Many people living with type 2 diabetes also have other significant risk factors for heart disease, including:

  • High cholesterol levels: Your liver produces a type of fat called cholesterol, which your body uses to make substances like vitamin D and some hormones. But excess cholesterol, especially low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, may build up inside blood vessels, blocking blood flow to organs and tissues.
  • High blood pressure: Blood pressure measures the amount of force your blood puts against the walls of your arteries and veins. Prolonged high blood pressure puts strain on your heart and may result in complications like heart attack and damage to your kidneys.
  • Smoking: Smoking causes blood vessels to narrow. This prevents blood from reaching your heart and other body tissues, and may cause significant damage to arteries and veins.
  • Obesity and lack of exercise: Obesity is strongly associated with insulin resistance, a condition that usually occurs before the development of diabetes. When your body is insulin resistance, it doesn’t use your naturally produced insulin effectively. Insulin resistance may contribute to the development of other risk factors, like high blood pressure. Exercising can help prevent insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes, lowering your risk for heart disease.
  • Family history: If you have a family history of diabetes and heart disease, you could be more likely to experience these issues yourself.

Managing Diabetes to Lower Heart Disease Risk

Reducing your heart disease risk and avoiding diabetes complications starts with effective management of your type 2 diabetes. It’s helpful to think of the ABCs when developing a plan for better health:

  • A is for A1C. The A1C test monitors your average blood glucose levels over a period of three months. The higher your A1C results are, the higher your blood glucose is on a daily basis. For many people, the goal for A1C levels is less than 7%. Your goals may be different depending on your unique needs.
  • B is for blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for the development of heart disease. Everyone’s blood pressure readings are different, and your doctor can help you determine what a healthy blood pressure is for you.
  • C is for cholesterol. Keeping LDL cholesterol levels low helps prevent it from building up and clogging blood vessels. Ask your doctor about what your cholesterol goals should be and how you can best achieve those goals.
  • S is for smoking. Since smoking hardens and narrows veins and arteries, it’s very important to stop smoking if you live with type 2 diabetes. Quitting greatly reduces your risk for cardiovascular issues like heart attack or stroke.

It takes time and commitment to manage your health, but with the proper help from your doctor, you can be well on your way. Since diabetes and heart disease are so strongly linked, anything you do to improve your diabetes can also help you lower your risk for cardiovascular complications. If you have questions about how to best manage your condition for better heart health, speak with your doctor for advice that’s tailored to you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 3
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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