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How does diabetes affect the heart?

0 2 years ago

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I am 42 and recently was diagnosed with diabetes. My doctor said I could manage the condition with diet and exercise for now but suggested I follow up with a cardiologist. As far as I know, my heart is fine. What is the connection between diabetes and heart health?

ANSWER: The number of people worldwide with diabetes is rising. While many may not realize it, having diabetes comes with a higher risk for heart disease.

Research has shown that people with Type 2 diabetes are up to four times more likely than the general population to die from cardiovascular causes. The fact that your health care professional recognizes the connection between these chronic, serious conditions is valuable. You can proactively take steps to reduce your future heart disease risk rather than only managing blood sugar levels.

Although you say that you do not have heart disease today, diabetes can damage blood vessels and make the heart muscle stiffer. This eventually leads to problems with fluid retention and heart failure.

People with diabetes also have higher risk of premature, accelerated coronary artery disease. This means that compared to those patients who do not have diabetes, the walls of the arteries have more fatty deposits and begin to harden earlier and without many warnings, making treatment difficult and causing the condition to progress faster. Subsequently, people with diabetes have an increased risk of recurrent heart attacks and scarring of the heart muscle, which increases the risk of sudden cardiac death.

After a heart attack, the heart muscle does not heal as well as in people who do not have diabetes. Also, the risk of complications, such as developing heart failure, is significantly higher.

Due to nerve damage caused by diabetes, patients may not feel the chest pain or other types of chest discomfort that may signal something is wrong with the heart, so heart disease may not be detected until it is advanced and fewer treatment options are available. They also may suffer “silent heart attacks” because of the lack of warning signs. They may not know that they already have an advanced stage of the disease.

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