Diabetics face a higher than average risk for heart disease and stroke (cardiovascular disease). In fact, approximately two-thirds of people with diabetes die from cardiovascular disease, which is why it's important to know the risks and treatment options.

Why Are My Risks Increased?

If you have diabetes, it doesn't mean you'll develop heart disease overnight. It actually takes years. When you sustain high blood sugar levels for an ongoing period of time, it eventually damages blood vessels throughout the body, especially in the heart and brain — reinforcing the importance of keeping your blood sugar under control.

Unfortunately, heart disease strikes diabetics almost twice as often as people without diabetes. And it tends to strike at a younger age.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Diabetes

Diabetics often suffer from other conditions that contribute to their risks for cardiovascular disease. That's why you need to take precautions even if your diabetes treatments are keeping your blood sugar at a desirable level.

Conditions that can increase your heart disease risks include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) — research shows that the higher your blood pressure, the greater your insulin resistance. In fact, having diabetes and hypertension can double your risks for heart disease.
  • Abnormal cholesterol and high triglycerides — unhealthy cholesterol levels (high LDL or bad cholesterol, low HDL or good cholesterol, and high triglycerides) are often a warning sign of heart disease for diabetics.
  • Obesity — a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance, obesity can contribute not only to high blood pressure but a range of serious health problems, including cancer.
  • Lack of exercise — staying physically active helps you lose weight and maintain a strong heart. Plus, exercising can delay the onset of type 2 diabetes and reduce blood pressure and risks for stroke.
  • High blood sugar — diabetes can raise your blood sugar to dangerous levels. Take your prescribed medications, eat a healthy diet, exercise and follow your doctor's instructions on what it will take to keep your blood sugar at the right level.
  • Smoking — with or without diabetes, smoking raises your risks for heart disease and stroke. If you smoke, quit. The American Heart Association provides resources that can help.

Staying in Control

Managing your diabetes is essential to heart disease prevention. Talk to your doctor about treatments and a plan you can follow to keep your heart healthy.