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Diabetes and heart disease

Your heart


Diabetes and heart disease

Understanding diabetes and how it can impact your heart health

Key takeaways

2 min read

  • 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.

Diabetes is an ongoing health condition where your body’s usual ways of controlling your blood sugar levels, also known as blood glucose, 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 the sugar 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 diabetes. If you have diabetes, you are about twice as likely to have a stroke or develop heart disease than people who don’t. 

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 CVD.   

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

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 disease. 

Diabetes and high blood pressure are closely related, but the link between them is still not fully understood. Consistently high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels, which can lead to high blood pressure. Meanwhile, high blood pressure prevents insulin from working properly, leading to higher blood sugar levels.

Good management of both diabetes and high blood pressure are important for reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

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

Gestational diabetes and future risk

Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that only happens during pregnancy.

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 

If you have diabetes, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage your diabetes effectively so that you can reduce your chances of developing heart disease. 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 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. Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute, The dark heart of type 2 diabetes. 2018, Baker IDI: Melbourne.
  2. Diabetes in America. In: Cowie CC, Casagrande SS, Menke A, et al, eds. Diabetes in America. 3rd ed. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (US); 2018.
  3. Einarson TR, Acs A, Ludwig C, Panton UH. Prevalence of cardiovascular disease in type 2 diabetes: a systematic literature review of scientific evidence from across the world in 2007-2017. Cardiovasc Diabetol. Jun 8 2018;17(1):83. doi:10.1186/s12933-018-0728-6
  4. Petrie JR, Guzik TJ, Touyz RM. Diabetes, Hypertension, and Cardiovascular Disease: Clinical Insights and Vascular Mechanisms. Can J Cardiol. May 2018;34(5):575-584. doi:10.1016/j.cjca.2017.12.005
  5. 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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Last updated15 February 2024