What Is Diabetic Heart Disease?
The term “diabetic heart disease” (DHD) refers to heart disease that develops in people who have diabetes. Compared with people who don’t have diabetes, people who have diabetes:
- Are at higher risk for heart disease
- Have additional causes of heart disease
- May develop heart disease at a younger age
- May have more severe heart disease
What Causes Diabetic Heart Disease?
At least four complex processes, alone or combined, can lead to diabetic heart disease (DHD). They include coronary atherosclerosis; metabolic syndrome; insulin resistance in people who have type 2 diabetes; and the interaction of coronary heart disease (CHD), high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Researchers continue to study these processes because all of the details aren’t yet known.
Who Is at Risk for Diabetic Heart Disease?
People who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at risk for diabetic heart disease (DHD). Diabetes affects heart disease risk in three major ways.
First, diabetes alone is a very serious risk factor for heart disease. Second, when combined with other risk factors, diabetes further raises the risk of heart disease. Third, compared with people who don’t have diabetes, people who have the disease are more likely to:
- Have heart attacks and other heart and blood vessel diseases. In men, the risk is double; in women, the risk is triple.
- Have more complications after a heart attack, such as angina (chest pain or discomfort) and heart failure.
- Die from heart disease.
The higher your blood sugar level is, the higher your risk of DHD. (A higher than normal blood sugar level is a risk factor for heart disease even in people who don’t have diabetes.)
Type 2 diabetes raises your risk of having “silent” heart disease—that is, heart disease with no signs or symptoms. You can even have a heart attack without feeling symptoms. Diabetes-related nerve damage that blunts heart pain may explain why symptoms aren’t noticed.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Heart Disease?
Some people who have diabetic heart disease (DHD) may have no signs or symptoms of heart disease. This is called “silent” heart disease. Diabetes-related nerve damage that blunts heart pain may explain why symptoms aren’t noticed.
Thus, people who have diabetes should have regular medical checkups. Tests may reveal a problem before they’re aware of it. Early treatment can reduce or delay related problems.
Some people who have DHD will have some or all of the typical symptoms of heart disease. Be aware of the symptoms described below and seek medical care if you have them.
If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 9–1–1 right away for emergency care. Treatment for a heart attack works best when it’s given right after symptoms occur.
How Is Diabetic Heart Disease Diagnosed?
Your doctor will diagnose diabetic heart disease (DHD) based on your signs and symptoms, medical and family histories, a physical exam, and the results from tests and procedures.
Doctors and researchers are still trying to find out whether routine testing for DHD will benefit people who have diabetes but no heart disease symptoms.
How Is Diabetic Heart Disease Treated?
Diabetic heart disease (DHD) is treated with lifestyle changes, medicines, and medical procedures. The goals of treating DHD include:
- Controlling diabetes and any other heart disease risk factors you have, such as unhealthy blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure
- Reducing or relieving heart disease symptoms, such as angina (chest pain or discomfort)
- Preventing or delaying heart disease complications, such as a heart attack
- Repairing heart and coronary artery damage
Following the treatment plan your doctor recommends is very important. Compared with people who don’t have diabetes, people who have the disease are at higher risk for heart disease, have additional causes of heart disease, may develop heart disease at a younger age, and may have more severe heart disease.
Taking action to manage multiple risk factors helps improve your outlook. The good news is that many lifestyle changes help control multiple risk factors.
How Can Diabetic Heart Disease Be Prevented?
Taking action to control risk factors can help prevent or delay heart disease in people who have diabetes and in those who don’t. Your risk of heart disease increases with the number of risk factors you have.
One step you can take is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle should be part of a lifelong approach to healthy living. A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Following a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Being physically active
- Quitting smoking
- Managing stress
You also should know your family history of diabetes and heart disease. If you or someone in your family has diabetes, heart disease, or both, let your doctor know.
People who have diabetes also need good blood sugar control. Controlling your blood sugar level is good for heart health. Ask your doctor about the best ways to control your blood sugar level.
For more information about lifestyle changes and medicines, go to “How Is Diabetic Heart Disease Treated?”