How Diabetes Can Affect Your Heart Health

Diabetes is a condition that affects how blood sugar or glucose is processed in the body. Glucose is an important source of energy for the body's cells. But in people with diabetes, the body either doesn't produce enough insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar, or it can't use the insulin it produces effectively, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is a significant public health problem in the United States, affecting an estimated 37.3 million people, or 11.3% of the population. Of these, 28.7 million have been diagnosed, while 8.5 million have undiagnosed diabetes. An estimated 1.4 million new cases are diagnosed annually, with type 2 diabetes being the most common, according to the American Diabetes Association

The symptoms of diabetes can vary depending on the type of diabetes and the individual. Some people with type 2 diabetes may have no symptoms at all, while others may experience blurred vision and increased thirst, urination, and hunger. As a chronic medical condition, diabetes may also significantly impact heart health.

How diabetes can affect your heart health

One of the main ways that diabetes can affect heart health is by increasing the risk of heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing heart disease than those without diabetes. High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, and those with diabetes are more likely to have increased LDL cholesterol, which can lead to plaque building up in the arteries. This can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition in which the arteries become narrow and hard, reducing blood flow to the heart and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

High blood sugar levels can also damage the heart muscle and impair its ability to pump effectively, increasing the risk of heart failure, per the CDC. To reduce the risk of heart disease and other complications associated with diabetes, it is important to properly manage blood sugar levels. Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider can help monitor heart health and detect any potential problems early.

Other risk factors that contribute to heart disease when you have diabetes

Several other factors can increase the risk of developing heart disease when you have diabetes, particularly when it comes to your diet and lifestyle habits. A diet that is high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, cholesterol, and added sugars can contribute to developing heart disease. Excessive alcohol use can increase your risk as well.

Physical inactivity is another major risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity can help improve cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure, increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and helping to maintain a healthy weight. Working out also helps your muscles produce a protein that helps your body utilize glucose and turn it into fuel. In fact, aerobic and muscle-building exercises can have similar effects on your blood sugar levels as certain diabetes medications, per Harvard Health

Another significant risk factor for heart disease is smoking. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can thicken the arteries and increase the risk of atherosclerosis, per the CDC. Secondhand smoke can also have similar effects.