Can diabetes affect your heart health?

Learn about the impact of diabetes on your heart health.

In order for your body to transform the food you eat into energy, it uses insulin. Insulin helps the sugars in your bloodstream turn into energy for your cells. Diabetes is a condition in which the body is unable to produce sufficient insulin, or the body becomes insulin resistant. Without proper insulin function, the bloodstream retains too much blood sugar.1

In the United States, 34.2 million adults have diabetes. Another 88 million adults have prediabetes, which also suggests higher blood sugar levels than normal. There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune reaction that is not known to be preventable.
  • Type 2 diabetes develops over time and can be prevented or delayed through weight loss and healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and although it may go away postpartum, it is a risk factor for future diabetes.1

Diabetes impacts on heart health

Diabetes may have negative effects on your heart health over time. In fact, many people with type 2 diabetes may eventually develop some form of cardiovascular disease. Diabetes can impact heart health in the following ways2:

  • Heart disease
    Diabetes can make your risk of developing obstructive coronary heart disease 2 to 4 times more likely. Because diabetes impacts blood sugar and blood flow, it may eventually contribute to blocked arteries, slowed blood flow, and blood vessel complications.3
  • Blood pressure
    People living with diabetes also have an increased risk of high blood pressure. These two conditions together cause increased strain on arteries, which may increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Heart failure
    Diabetes can contribute to blocked arteries and stiffened blood vessels, which may cause your heart to lose its ability to appropriately pump blood through the body.2

Managing diabetes

While type 1 diabetes is not preventable, it can be managed with diet and lifestyle changes, as well as medication. However, it is possible to prevent or slow the effects of type 2 diabetes, also through diet and lifestyle changes. Regardless of the type of diabetes you have been diagnosed with, you should work with your doctor to create a plan for monitoring your heart health. If you are working to manage type 2 diabetes, consider incorporating these lifestyle changes to protect your heart health.

  • Modifying diet
    Keeping an eye on appropriate portion sizes and eating a balanced, more plant-based diet can help keep your blood sugar at healthy levels. Many people use the Diabetes Plate Method to take the guesswork out of managing diabetes through diet.
  • Incorporating regular exercise
    Aiming for at least 150 minutes per week of exercise can help manage blood sugar levels, keep your heart healthy, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Exercise can be as simple as going for a walk in your neighborhood, or as involved as working with a trainer at the gym. Find something you really enjoy so that including exercise in your day feels easy and fun.4
  • Monitoring heart health
    Because diabetes so commonly leads to heart disease, it’s important to closely monitor your heart health if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. Keeping regular doctor visits and discussing your blood pressure, blood glucose, and diet with your doctor is essential.
  • Managing sleep and stress
    Stress hormones can interact in your body to cause high blood pressure and make it difficult to regulate your blood sugar. Manage stress and prioritize your mental health in order to better protect your heart and manage the effects of diabetes. Getting six to eight hours of quality sleep each night helps regulate these stress hormones.4

These lifestyle changes serve as a great jumping-off point, but every person has different needs. Talk with your doctor to create a diabetes and heart health management plan that works best for you.