Diabetes and Heart Disease

Heart disease is common in people with diabetes. Diabetes is a condition in which the body is unable to efficiently process carbohydrates, resulting in high blood glucose (sugar) levels. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90% to 95% of diabetes diagnoses.

If it is not properly treated and controlled, diabetes can have several side effects and lead to various health problems, such as kidney disease, eye disease, and nerve damage. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop heart disease or a stroke (blocked blood flow or bleeding in the brain) than people without diabetes—and at a younger age.

Ways to Treat and Prevent Diabetic Heart Disease - Illustration by Daniel Fishel

Verywell / Daniel Fishel

However, by making some lifestyle changes, you can lower your risk for heart disease and improve your overall heart health. In turn, choosing healthier lifestyle habits will help you better manage diabetes, as well.

This article will discuss the link between diabetes and heart disease, the symptoms of heart disease, as well as steps you can take to help you protect your heart health.

The Link Between Diabetes and Heart Disease

Consistently high blood sugar levels can cause damage to your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart. Over time, this damage can lead to heart disease.

Different types of heart disease include heart failure (the heart cannot pump blood adequately), arrhythmias (irregular heart beat), and atherosclerosis (hardened and narrowed blood vessels due to fatty plaque build-up), which can cause coronary artery disease (CAD) which restricts blood flow to the heart muscle.

Causes and Risk Factors

People with diabetes are more likely to have other conditions that raise the risk for heart disease, such as:

Other risk factors that raise your risk for heart disease include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not being physically active
  • Consistently eating foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium (salt)
  • Consuming excessive alcohol
  • Family history of heart disease
  • ​​Smoking

Signs and Symptoms

Conditions like high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and abnormal cholesterol do not have any symptoms. To find out if you have any of these, you can have a simple blood test to check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and have your blood pressure checked at your healthcare professional's office. 

Common symptoms of heart disease include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Constant fatigue 
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Weakness or numbness in your arms or legs
  • Pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest
  • Numbness, pain, or weakness in your arms or legs
  • Pain in your throat, neck, jaw, upper abdomen, or back
  • Swelling in your legs, abdomen, or areas around your eyes
  • Indigestion, nausea, heartburn, or stomach pain
  • Loud snoring or sleep apnea (episodes where you don't breathe during sleep)

Treatment and Prevention

Regular check-ups are important to help identify any health problems. Early detection of heart disease and associated risk factors can help you and your doctor create a treatment plan to reduce your risk of complications.

Track Blood Sugar, Blood Pressure, and Cholesterol

Self-monitoring of blood sugar levels at home is an important part of any diabetes care routine. In addition to checking your blood sugar levels at home, you should have your A1C checked by your doctor every three to six months. A1C is a measurement of your average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months. 

Additionally, have your blood pressure checked every time you visit your doctor and get your cholesterol checked at least every five years, or more frequently if it’s not within normal range.

Make Heart Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Diet: What you eat can have a direct impact on your heart health. Choose to follow a heart-healthy diet, such as eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, lean protein, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.

Opt for healthier unsaturated fats instead of saturated and trans fats. Hydrate yourself with water, while limiting sugary drinks and alcohol.

Physical activity: It’s recommended to get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Break it up however you like. A good goal is to exercise for a total of about 30 minutes most days of the week. Move your body in ways you enjoy, choosing activities that you like and can stick to.

Stress: Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Stress hormones can impact blood sugar levels, and can also lead to high blood pressure. People with diabetes are also at increased risk of depression and diabetes distress, or burnout.

Finding ways to cope with and manage your stress can go a long way to help in the prevention of heart disease and other health conditions.

Sleep: Getting enough quality sleep each night can help reduce stress hormones. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Additionally, try to have regular sleep and wake times, which will help keep your circadian rhythm (daily patterns of sleep and other factors) consistent.

Consider Medication or Surgery

Medication: Another good way you can help prevent heart disease is by taking your medications as prescribed. This includes diabetes medications and medications to manage cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and more. Never skip a dose or stop taking your medications unless directed by your doctor.

Surgery: You may need surgery or another medical procedure performed if you have developed heart disease. Treatment will look different for each person, depending on the type of heart complication. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about potential surgical treatments for your condition.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you develop any symptoms of a heart attack (a part of the heart muscle doesn't get enough blood) or stroke, seek medical attention immediately. Early treatment can help reduce any potential damage to your heart.

Symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • Chest pain or pressure that lasts longer than a few minutes
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both of your arms or shoulders, or your back, neck, or jaw
  • Nausea, indigestion, or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting or light-headedness
  • Fatigue that doesn’t go away with adequate rest or sleep


People with diabetes are at increased risk of developing heart disease. Other conditions, such as high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, and other lifestyle factors additionally increase the risk of heart disease.

Steps you can take to help decrease your risk include managing your diabetes and other health conditions, choosing a heart healthy diet, participating in regular physical activity, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, and taking any prescribed medications.

A Word From Verywell

Although people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing heart disease, there are steps you can take to minimize this risk. Attending regular check-ups can help with early identification of any problems or complications. Work closely with your team of healthcare providers to find the right treatment plan for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What types of heart disease are linked to diabetes?

    Heart disease includes several different types of problems that affect your heart, such as heart failure, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), and atherosclerosis (hardened and narrowed blood vessels due to fatty plaque build-up). The most common type of complication related to these is coronary artery disease, which is often caused by atherosclerosis, and affects blood flow to the heart.

  • What is your life expectancy with diabetic heart disease?

    According to a study in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, life expectancy for women with diabetes and heart disease is about 11 years less than women without either disease. Men with diabetes and heart disease have a life expectancy of about eight years less than men without either disease.

    However, the researchers noted that life expectancy in someone with diabetes and heart disease can be changed by participating in positive health behaviors and getting regular medical care.

  • What are the signs of an unhealthy heart?

    Possible signs of an unhealthy heart include:

    • High blood pressure
    • Shortness of breath
    • Constant fatigue 
    • Light-headedness or dizziness
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Weakness or numbness in your arms or legs
    • Pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest
    • Numbness, pain, or weakness in your arms or legs
    • Pain in your throat, neck, jaw, upper abdomen, or back
    • Swelling in your legs, abdomen, or areas around your eyes
    • Indigestion, nausea, heartburn, or stomach pain
    • Sweating without physical exertion
    • Loud snoring, or sleep apnea

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. MedlinePlus. Warning signs and symptoms of heart disease.

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  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?

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By Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDCES
Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CDCES, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.