Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke

Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke

The longer a person has diabetes — the less controlled blood sugar — the higher the risk of complications. Long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually. Eventually, diabetes complications may be disabling or even life-threatening.

Diabetes can cause a host of complications affecting almost every organ of the body. These complications are:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Eye damage
  • Digestion problems
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Skin problems
  • Infection
  • Dental problems

What is the link between diabetes, heart disease, and stroke?

Heart disease and Stroke – the blood vessel complications in diabetes

People with diabetes generally have risk factors such as high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, that increase the chances of having a heart attack or a stroke.

Over time, narrowing of blood vessels can harm the heart, brain, legs, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and skin, resulting in angina, heart failure, strokes, leg cramps during walking (claudication), poor vision, chronic kidney disease, damage to nerves (neuropathy), and skin breakdown.

Atherosclerosis (build up of plaque in arteries) leads to heart attacks and strokes. Atherosclerosis is between 2 and 4 times more common and tends to occur at a younger age in people with diabetes than in people who do not have diabetes.

What are the symptoms of heart attack and stroke?

Signs and symptoms of stroke include sudden weakness on one side of the face or body; numbness in the face, arm, or leg; difficulty speaking; trouble seeing with both eyes; or dizziness.

The signs and symptoms of heart attack maybe be varied. Common heart attack symptoms include chest pain that may feel like pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing or aching; pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, teeth or sometimes the upper belly or cold sweat among others.

A doctor should be immediately consulted in such cases.

What are the other factors that increase the chances of heart disease or stroke in diabetics?

Gender: Males are more prone to heart attack than female

Smoking: It is important to stop smoking in diabetes. Smoking and diabetes together narrow blood vessels and also leads to increasing the chances of developing other long-term problems of:

  • – lung disease,
  • – lower leg infections and
  • – foot ulcers or leg amputation

High blood pressure: the heart works harder to pump blood and this might strain your heart, damage blood vessels, and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and eye or kidney problems.

High Cholesterol: builds up and clogs the blood vessels leading to heart attack
Other factors are overweightness or excess belly fat, kidney disease or family history of heart disease.

How can the chances of a heart attack or stroke in diabetic patients be lowered?

Take care of diabetes is of primary importance to prevent heart attack and stroke.

Manage your ABCs

A is for the A1C test

The higher your A1C number, the higher the blood glucose levels have been during the past 3 months. An average blood glucose level is the ideal way to assess if a person has been consistent.

The A1C goal for many people with diabetes is below 7%, but depending on the doctor and the stage of diabetes and the patient profile, it may be different.

B is for blood pressure

Maintaining the blood pressure contributes to prevention of heart attack or stroke and the damage to kidneys and eyes.The blood pressure goal for most people with diabetes is below 140/90 mm Hg. Consult the doctor about your goal.

C is for cholesterol

A buildup of cholesterol, a form of fat found in your blood, can cause a heart attack or stroke. According to the levels, a medication (statins) may be prescribed by the doctor to keep the cholesterol low. Some people with very high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol may need to take medicine starting at a younger age.

S is for stop smoking

Smoking cessation may result in:

  • Lower your risk for heart attack; stroke; nerve, kidney, and eye disease; and amputation
  • Improvement in blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
  • Improvement in blood circulation
    easier to be physically active

Other interventions are:

  • Develop or maintain healthy lifestyle habits
  • Learning to manage stress
  • Medication to protect the heart – Medicine may help reduce your risk of blood clots, heart attack, or stroke; treat angina, or chest pain (a symptom of heart disease); treat heart failure (a form of heart disease in which the heart is unable to pump blood into the body for its proper functioning).


  1. Diabetes, Heart Disease, & Stroke. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). January 2024.
  2. Diabetes Complications. WebMD. January 2024.

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