Putting It All Together

The link between heart disease and type 2 diabetes is stronger—and more complex—than you may realize. If you have diabetes, you know there's a lot to think about when it comes to reducing your risk of serious complications. But did you know that heart disease is one of those complications?


Heart attacks strike people who have diabetes twice as often as those without the condition, and two out of three people who have diabetes will ultimately die of a heart attack or a stroke. These are sobering statistics, but they don't have to be a window into your future.


Recognizing heart disease as a common complication of diabetes can help motivate you to make healthier choices and be more assertive in how you manage your condition.


"People who develop diabetes and those who develop heart disease share a number of risk factors, including smoking, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol," says Larissa Avilés-Santa, MD, an endocrinologist and a spokeswoman for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


What Are the Consequences?

For people who have diabetes, the development of heart disease takes their already high-risk condition into the red zone. Dr. Avilés-Santa explains a few of the ways heart disease can have a profoundly negative effect on your health:


Heart attack. For some people who have diabetes, the risk of having a heart attack is very real. "People with diabetes often do not experience the traditional symptoms of a heart attack," Dr. Avilés-Santa says, "so it's especially important to pay attention to any symptom that seems out of the ordinary."


Congestive heart failure. As heart disease progresses, the heart muscle tends to get weaker and pumps blood less effectively, which can leave you feeling persistently weak and short of breath. The heart may ultimately stop working.


Stroke and peripheral artery disease. "Because people with diabetes are susceptible to atherosclerosis [narrowing and hardening of the arteries], they are also at higher risk of stroke and diminished blood flow to the limbs, also known as peripheral artery disease," Dr. Avilés-Santa says.


So What Can You Do About It?

Reducing your risk of heart disease and other diabetes-related complications begins with staying on top of your condition.


Know your ABCs. A is for A1C, or estimated average glucose levels, B is for blood pressure, and C is for cholesterol. By keeping those numbers in the healthy range, you can effectively protect your heart.


Make your health a priority. Leading a healthy lifestyle—including being physically active, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a nutritious and balanced diet—can go a long way toward reducing your risk of heart disease and keeping your diabetes in check.


Talk to your doctor. At the end of the day, every person's health situation is unique. "Your doctor can help you identify ways to successfully manage your diabetes and reduce your risk of complications, including heart disease," Dr. Avilés-Santa says. "Speak candidly with your healthcare provider about how you're doing managing your diabetes and other health conditions, and express any concerns you may have."