1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Heart Disease and Diabetes

By

Updated November 15, 2006

Heart Disease and Diabetes
Copyright 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc.

What's the Connection?

People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop heart disease than the rest of the population. Among diabetics, heart disease can progress quicker than normal.

Why? Diabetes speeds up hardening of the arteries (also known as atherosclerosis). This can occur when cholesterol levels get too high. You may have heard of LDLs and HDLs. These are the lipoproteins that carry the cholesterol that circulates in your body. LDLs, or low-density proteins, take the cholesterol through the circulatory system to where it is needed. HDL's, or high-densitiy proteins, carry what isn't used back to the liver.

When there is too much cholesterol, the LDLs deposit the left-over cholesterol into the blood vessels. Even though the HDLs try to carry the excess back to the liver, they can't take it all. The extra cholesterol that gets left behind forms plaque on the vessels walls, which makes them less flexible and more narrow. This raises the risk for blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.

Diabetics Should Watch Cholesterol Closely

When someone has diabetes, the glucose in the blood can slow down the LDLs and make them "sticky," which makes the cholesterol build up much faster on the blood vessel walls. That's why people with diabetes have to watch their cholesterol levels more closely and start cholesterol lowering medications sooner than people who do not have diabetes.

Recommended Cholesterol levels:

  • LDL cholesterol: <100 mg/dl
  • HDL cholesterol: >45 mg/dl for men and >55 mg/dl for women
  • Triglycerides: <150 mg/dl

How to Lower Cholesterol

A Healthier Diet
  • Avoid "tropical" fats such as coconut and palm oils
  • Use less fats overall when cooking
  • Eat more whole-grain breads and cereals and eat fewer products made with refined flour
  • Choose low-fat dairy products
  • Eat less red meat and more fish and skinless white meat chicken or other healthy sources of protein, like beans and tofu
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables

Other Things You Can Do
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise everyday
  • Quit smoking, or don't start
  • Keep regular appointments with your doctor
  • Take cholesterol medications as prescribed


As a diabetic, it's also important you know the warning signs of the different types of heart disease problems that require immediate medical attention.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

  • Pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the chest
  • Discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking into a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Stroke Warning Signs

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

If you experience these symptoms above, do not hesitate. Call 911 immediately.

Sources:

Drexel MD, et al. "Is Atherolsclerosis in Diabetes and Impaired Fasting Glucose Driven by Elevated LDL Cholesterol or by Decreased HDL Cholesterol?." Diabetes Care 28:101-10701, May 2005, 14 Nov 2006

"Heart Attack, Stroke and Cardiac Arrest Warning Signs." American Heart Association. American Heart Association. 14 Nov 2006

"Cholesterol, Triglycerides, and Diabetes." American Diabetes Association. American Diabetes Association. 14 Nov 2006

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.