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Managing Diabetes Complications: Heart Disease

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Heart or blood-vessel disease accounts for about 75% of all deaths for people with diabetes.1

High blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular complications, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hardening of the arteries. In addition to risk factors you cannot control—such as heredity, age and gender—you can be at greater risk of heart problems from the following:

  • High levels of blood fats, such as cholesterol and triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Being overweight
  • Stress
  • Too much alcohol

Heart Disease Symptoms

Any one of the following symptoms could be a sign of heart disease, stroke or other heart problems. If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your healthcare professional:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizzy spells
  • Jaw, back, arm, neck or stomach pain
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
  • Leg pain, which may go away with rest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating or light-headedness
  • Slow-healing cuts and sores

Taking Care of Your Heart

The American Diabetes Association recommends seeing your healthcare professional 2 to 4 times each year to monitor your diabetes and any other problems you may have.2

In addition, there are ways you can help protect your heart:

  • Keep your blood glucose levels in the range recommended by your healthcare professional
  • Keep your blood pressure within a healthy range
  • Control cholesterol and triglycerides through a healthy meal plan
  • Stop smoking
  • Get physical activity every day
  • Lose weight, if you are above a recommended range
  • Drink alcohol in moderation only
  • Ask your healthcare professional if you are a good candidate for daily aspirin therapy

If lifestyle changes are not enough, your healthcare team may recommend medication or surgery. The most common form of treatment is aspirin therapy, which helps reduce your risk of blood clots. Other options include:

  • Beta-blockers to decrease heart rate and blood pressure
  • ACE inhibitors to enlarge blood vessels and protect the kidneys
  • Statins to help reduce cholesterol levels


1 Canadian Heart Association. Heart & Stroke. Taking Control, Lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Available at:{99452D8B-E7F1-4BD6-A57D-B136CE6C95BF}/TAKING_CONTROL_ENG_FEB08.PDF. Accessed March 27, 2009.

American Diabetes Association. Future visits. Available at: Accessed October 16, 2008.


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