Heart disease is the major cause of death for people with diabetes. All people with diabetes have an increased chance of developing heart disease; in fact, they’re two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than someone who doesn’t have diabetes. Women with diabetes are up to five times more likely to develop heart disease than women without diabetes. A person with diabetes without a known history of heart disease is as likely to have a heart attack as a person without diabetes who already had a heart attack.
What Causes Heart Disease?
The most common cause of heart disease in a person with diabetes is hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrition to the heart. These cholesterol plaques can break apart or rupture, causing blood clots and blocking the blood vessel. This can lead to a heart attack. This same process can happen in all of the arteries in the body, resulting in lack of blood to the brain, causing a stroke, or lack of blood to the feet, hands, or arms, causing peripheral vascular disease.
People with diabetes are also at higher risk for heart failure, a condition in which the heart is not able to pump blood adequately. This can lead to fluid build-up in the lungs that causes difficulty breathing, or fluid retention in other parts of the body (especially the legs) that causes swelling.
Diabetes is only one factor that increases a person’s risk for heart disease. Other factors include smoking, high cholesterol, low HDL (or “good” cholesterol), being overweight, high blood pressure, your age, being male, and having a family history of heart disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?
· Shortness of breath
· Feeling faint
· Feeling dizzy
· Pain in the shoulders, jaw and left arm*
· Chest pain or pressure (especially during activity)*
*You should call your doctor if these occur or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.