Diabetes Complication #1: Heart Disease

Filed Under: Blood Sugar, Diabetes Complications
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Much of the research on the relationship between diabetes and heart disease has come from the Framingham Heart Study.

Started in the early 1950s, this study, which has followed the medical history of thousands of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, has provided a gold mine of data showing how people living with diabetes are at dramatically increased risk of heart disease and related health concerns.

Other studies have demonstrated that even in the absence of other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease, people living with diabetes are still at a much higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. They’re also more likely to be concerned about their blood pressure health. Why is this?

The most common type of heart disease, coronary artery disease, is primarily a disease of the blood vessels, or coronary arteries, that supply the heart muscle with vital oxygen and nutrients. In a process known as atherosclerosis, the artery walls become narrowed and hardened with buildups of cholesterol and cellular debris, which can restrict blood flow and impair circulation. If the blood flow through these arteries is severely restricted, angina (chest pain caused by insufficient oxygen to the heart muscle) may result. And if a blood clot lodges in a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke may occur.

When you throw elevated blood sugar into the mix, the situation only gets worse. Excess blood sugar makes the blood less viscous, causing impaired circulation. And high levels of insulin, also characteristic of type 2 diabetes, damage the arteries and contribute to atherosclerosis. So it makes sense that people living with diabetes are also at increased risk of developing heart disease. Fortunately, taking steps to manage blood sugar levels can help to reduce this risk.

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