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Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes

You've probably heard that people with diabetes are at risk for multiple health complications. These include cardiovascular disease. As it turns out, cardiovascular disease is especially common among people with diabetes. Most people with type 2 diabetes will eventually develop cardiovascular disease. Most people have probably heard of cardiovascular disease. Few understand exactly what it involves. Healthcare providers use the term cardiovascular disease to describe many conditions that affect blood circulation in the body:

  • Heart disease happens when blood circulating to the heart muscle is slowed or stopped because of a blocked artery. Heart disease can result in chest pain or a heart attack. It can even lead to sudden death.

  • Heart failure happens when the heart loses its ability to pump blood as it should. Heart failure can be caused by a number of factors. These include damage to the heart. Or blocked arteries and high blood pressure.

  • Stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked. This is the most common type of stroke. It is often caused by a blood clot or blocked arteries.

  • Peripheral arterial disease consists of blockages in the arteries to the legs and feet. 

What causes cardiovascular disease?

Most people think of obesity when they think of cardiovascular disease. But another strong risk factor is age. Your risk of developing cardiovascular disease goes up at age 40. And it is highest after age 70. People with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely than others to develop cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease remains the most common cause of death in people with diabetes because this risk is so high. Not getting enough exercise also puts you at risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Warning signs

Get medical care if:

  • You have chest discomfort when you walk or exercise.

  • You have chest pain along with tiredness (fatigue) or shortness of breath.

  • Your resting heart rate is usually faster than 100 beats per minute.

  • You are a young man with erectile dysfunction.

Women may have stomach upset. Older adults may have confusion or fainting (syncope). These are all warning signs of a possible heart attack. Symptoms are not the same for everyone.

How is cardiovascular disease found?

Healthcare providers will first look to your family health history for more information if they suspect cardiovascular disease. Did your mother, father, brothers, or sisters have heart trouble? Your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is higher if you have family members with the disease. Other risk factors include high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. Healthcare providers use a variety of tests to find cardiovascular disease. A routine blood test can show whether you have high levels of c-reactive protein. This is a marker that you’re at higher risk. An electrocardiogram will show whether your heart’s electrical activity is normal. For example, a stress test on a treadmill will give more information that may lead to diagnosis. Your healthcare provider may "stress" your heart by injecting medicine through an IV (intravenous) line if you are not able to walk on a treadmill. This medicine can cause the heart to beat fast and imitate the stress of exercise. Some people will be asked to have an echocardiogram. This makes pictures of the heart to show how well the muscles of the heart can squeeze and pump blood. CT scans can also be used to visualize heart arteries as well as look for calcium. Calcium is a marker for atherosclerosis.

Protect your heart!

Now is the time for action if your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is high. You can reduce your risk, starting today, by making the following lifestyle changes. Ask your healthcare provider to help you:

  • Quit smoking

  • Lose weight

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet

  • Exercise

  • Control your blood pressure

  • Improve your cholesterol

  • Manage your stress

  • Find out if using aspirin therapy would help you

  • Set an appropriate hemoglobin A1C goal if you have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes. A1C is the average level of blood sugar over 2 to 3 months. Work with your healthcare provider to set and develop ways to achieve that goal.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2023
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