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Diabetic Heart Disease

Clear Link Between Diabetes and Heart Disease

There is a clear link between diabetes and heart disease. In fact, the most common long-term complication of diabetes is heart disease and diabetes is now regarded as one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease. This risk burden is particularly worsened when combined with other common risk factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.


  • Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke, account for two-thirds to three-quarters of all diabetes-related deaths.
  • Heart disease strikes people with diabetes two to three times as often as people without diabetes.
  • Deaths from heart disease in women with diabetes have increased 23 percent over the past 30 years compared to a 27 percent decrease in women without diabetes.
  • Deaths from heart disease in men with diabetes have decreased by only 13 percent compared to a 36 percent decrease in men without diabetes.
  • People with diabetes are as likely to have a heart attack as people without diabetes who have already had a heart attack.
  • People with diabetes are also at increased risk for heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood adequately. This can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs, which causes difficulty breathing, as well as fluid retention in other parts of the body, particularly the legs.

Why are people with diabetes at increased risk for heart disease?

People with diabetes are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease because elevations in blood sugar (glucose) can lead to damage inside blood vessel walls. This makes it easier for fatty deposits known as plaque to build up in artery walls, narrowing the passageways and causing blockages that can lead to heart attack or stroke. In addition, diabetes increases the likelihood of clot formation which can further block blood flow in the artery. The risk also increases due to other factors that interact with diabetes. For example, the blood vessels in patients with diabetes are more susceptible to injury from other risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. More than 90 percent of diabetes patients have one or more of these additional risk factors. There is also some evidence that those with diabetes have an increased level of low-grade inflammation in the linings of their arteries, a process that starts blood vessel changes that lead to heart disease.

Contact Information

Heart Care for Diabetic Patients
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215