Diabetes and heart disease
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Diabetes and heart disease

Diabetes is an ongoing health condition where your body’s usual ways of controlling your blood sugar, or blood glucose levels, don’t work properly.

Key takeaways

  • Diabetes is an ongoing health condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal. 
  • Having blood sugar levels that are consistently above the normal range can lead to serious complications, such as vision loss, kidney disease, foot and leg problems, and an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. 
  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the biggest cause of death among people with diabetes. 
3 min read
Diabetes is an ongoing health condition where your body’s usual ways of controlling your blood sugar, or blood glucose levels, don’t work properly. When your body breaks down food, your blood sugar level rises. The cells in your body absorb this sugar into your bloodstream using a hormone called insulin, and use it for energy. 

When your body doesn’t make enough insulin and/or doesn’t use it very well, the result will be higher than normal blood sugar levels. 

What are the consequences of having diabetes? 

Over time, having blood sugar levels that are consistently above the normal range can lead to serious complications, including: 

  • Vision loss 
  • Kidney disease 
  • Nerve problems 
  • Foot and leg problems 
  • An increased risk of stroke and heart disease. 

How does diabetes affect your heart? 

Having diabetes increases your chance of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). 

CVD – such as heart attack and stroke – is the main cause of death among people with diabetes2. If you have diabetes, you can be up to four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people who don’t3

Over time, high blood sugar levels from diabetes can damage the blood vessels in your heart, making them more likely to develop fatty deposits. 

The longer you have diabetes, the higher the chances are that you will develop heart disease. Around 30 per cent of people with Type 2 diabetes also have CVD1.   

In fact, if you have diabetes, your chances of dying from heart disease are actually the same as someone who has already had a heart attack2

You’re also more likely to have other health problems that can cause heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or being overweight. 

Blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease 

Most people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, another key risk factor for heart disease3
In fact, many of the complications you can get from having diabetes come from damage to your blood vessels as a result of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.  

Find out more about the link between high blood pressure and heart disease.

Gestational diabetes and future risk

Most women who have had gestational diabetes during their pregnancy will no longer have diabetes after their baby is born. They are however, at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke compared to women who have not had this condition. 

If you have experienced gestational diabetes, talk to your doctor about monitoring your heart health and managing your ongoing risk.

How you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease 

To manage or reduce your chances of developing heart disease if you’re living with diabetes, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage your diabetes effectively. Ways to do this include:

  • Taking your medication to control diabetes as prescribed by your doctor 
  • Eating a varied diet of healthy foods 
  • Being physically active (ideally for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week) 
  • Managing your blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels 
  • Being smoke-free 
  • Limiting your alcohol intake. 

Get regular Heart Health Checks 

The best way of finding out your risk of heart disease is by having a regular Heart Health Check (HHC) with your doctor. 

  • As diabetes is an important risk factor for heart disease, your doctor will check your blood sugar levels. 
  • They’ll also work with you to lower your risk of diabetes through lifestyle changes such as exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, following a heart healthy diet and possibly taking medications. 

For support and more information 

You can learn more about managing diabetes on the Diabetes Australia website.
 

 
1.Thomas, M.C. and P.J. Nestel, Management of dyslipidaemia in patients with type 2 diabetes in Australian primary care. Med J Aust, 2007. 186(3): p. 128-30. 
2.Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute, The dark heart of type 2 diabetes. 2018, Baker IDI: Melbourne. 
3. Shaw, J., Tanamas, S., eds. (2012). Diabetes: the silent pandemic and its impact on Australia. Melbourne: Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute 

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