Diabetes and heart problems

Diabetes is a cardiovascular risk factor that increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. It affects more than 20 million Americans and about 40 million suffer from prediabetes (early type 2 diabetes).


Diabetes or diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease characterized by a high concentration of sugar (glucose) in the blood.

It is caused by the malfunction of the pancreas that stops producing a hormone called insulin.

Diabetes can be caused by genetic factors or environmental factors such as obesity , especially abdominal fat or central fat and lack of physical activity .


In the human body, insulin, produced by the beta cells of the pancreas, transports glucose into the muscles, fat cells and liver cells. This will be used as energy or stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles to carry out the vital processes for our body.

When the pancreas does not produce insulin or does it insufficiently, the glucose instead of entering the cells remains circulating in the blood, which increases blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia).

Three types of diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes : it is considered an autoimmune disease due to the destruction of the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. It requires daily injections of insulin, since the body does not produce enough insulin. 10% of diabetes cases are of this type. It can appear at any age, but it is usually diagnosed more frequently in children, adolescents or young adults. The exact cause is unknown.
  • Type 2 diabetes or diabetes mellitus : it is due to the inability of the body to use insulin. 90% of diabetics are of this type. Although it is more frequent in adulthood, its prevalence has increased among adolescents and young adults due to obesity. Many people who suffer from this type of diabetes do not know that they suffer from this disease because it does not produce symptoms in its early stages.
  • Gestational diabetes: starts or recognizes for the first time during pregnancy. It is due to high blood sugar.
  • Diabetes and heart problems

    Several studies show that there is a higher incidence of coronary disease among diabetics than among people who do not suffer from the disease. In fact, it is considered that the cardiovascular risk of a diabetic is equal to that of a person who has suffered a heart attack.

    But how does diabetes affect the heart? Too much sugar in the blood progressively damages the blood vessels . It damages the wall of the arteries, which facilitates the deposition of cholesterol and accelerates the process of arteriosclerosis . The atheroma plaques become more numerous and serious. This increases the risk of suffering from angina pectoris or an acute myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death . Its severity depends on blood glucose levels, that is, the concentration of glucose in the blood.

    In addition, excess glucose favors inflammation, which increases the risk of blood clots, increasing the risk of suffering cerebrovascular disease and the involvement of the peripheral arteries.

    If diabetes is also accompanied by other cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity and overweight, having high blood pressure, excess LDL cholesterol significantly increases cardiovascular risk.

    Other consequences of diabetes

    Diabetes can damage different organs:

    • Eyes : loss of progressive vision that can lead to blindness.
    • Kidneys : kidney dysfunction that can lead to dialysis
    • Peripheral nervous system : affectation to the sensibilities of the lower limbs, which supposes a serious risk of ulcers and amputations.
    • Autonomic nervous system : digestive, urinary and sexual disorders (impotence) and alterations of the arteries of the lower extremities with risk of amputations.

    Diagnosis of diabetes

    The American Diabetes Associationrecommends a fasting glucose test or an oral glucose tolerance test after age 45 , especially if you are obese or overweight to detect prediabetes or diabetes as soon as possible and take action sooner that affects the health of the heart.

Diabetes treatment

There is no cure for diabetes, as it is a chronic disease that requires lifelong treatment.

Type 2 diabetes requires weight control , physical exercise, control of blood glucose with a proper diet and oral antidiabetics. Nutrition is crucial in therapy in this type of diabetes that does not need insulin (except in cases of long duration and when it is associated with other serious diseases).

It is important to prevent and control other risk factors related to diabetes such as obesity, high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure   to reduce cardiovascular risk.

  • Sugar, another enemy of heart health?



American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes – 2011. Diabetes Care. 2010; 34 Suppl 1: S11-S61.

USES. NIH. NDIC National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Accessed: September 13, 2012.