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Understanding diabetes

Understanding diabetes

Learn more about diabetes in general and delve into specific aspects of type 1 and 2 diabetes.

How to lower your heart disease risk
3 min. read

How to lower your heart disease risk

Managing your type 2 diabetes can also lower your risk of heart disease. Learn what you can do for both.

Diabetes day by day
6 min. read

Diabetes day by day

Good diabetes management requires awareness and careful planning for all types of environments and situations.

Cardiovascular disease and heart disease: What’s the difference?

Are cardiovascular disease and heart disease the same thing? In short, no - cardiovascular disease is the general term for conditions affecting the heart (cardio) or blood vessels (vascular) and covers all heart and circulatory diseases, including: 2

  • Heart disease 
  • Angina
  • Heart attack 
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Vascular dementia

Heart disease is another broad term used to describe a range of disorders affecting your heart, and these include: 2

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Congenital heart disease

There’s a strong correlation between both cardiovascular disease and diabetes and heart disease and diabetes. In both, blood vessels narrow and the amount of oxygen-rich blood reaching the body’s vital organs is severely reduced. 3

The blood pressure rises, and your heart must work harder to move blood around the body. Over time, this can cause lasting damage to the heart, resulting in cardiovascular disease. 3

You may not be aware that if you have type 2 diabetes, you are at a higher risk of developing heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, than people without diabetes. Due to this increased risk, people with diabetes are 2–6 times more likely to die from heart disease compared to people without type 2 diabetes.

It is important to take care of your heart health and type 2 diabetes together.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a group of diseases which can arise when blood vessels become so narrow that the amount of oxygen-rich blood reaching the body’s organs is reduced. Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease because high blood glucose levels can damage the walls of blood vessels. This damage can increase the likelihood of fatty material (such as fat and cholesterol) in the blood vessels and eventually, the build-up of fatty material can cause the vessels to become narrow. This, in turn, can lead to reduced blood flow.

When this happens, there can be a lot of force pushing the blood against the walls of the blood vessels, which is also known as high blood pressure. When your blood pressure is high, your heart and the blood vessels have to work a lot harder to move blood around the body. Over time, this causes damage to the heart and can lead to events like irregular heartbeat, heart attack or stroke.

What causes blood vessels to narrow or clog?

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Not eating a healthy diet
  • Not getting enough exercise

What is the correlation between type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have established risk factors for cardiovascular disease. 4

You’ll likely already be familiar with the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, and this knowledge will come in handy when exploring the correlation between type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

As a quick refresher, note that type 2 diabetes causes high glucose levels in the bloodstream. This can quickly lead to the damaging of blood vessel walls, an increase in fatty materials and the reduction of blood flow. This kind of build-up can starve the heart of oxygen and nutrition, potentially resulting in severe heart conditions, strokes, and high blood pressure.

The most common symptoms of cardiovascular diseases and something you should look out for as a patient with type 2 diabetes, include: 6

  • Chest pain
  • Pain, weakness, or numb legs and/or arms
  • Breathlessness
  • Very fast or slow heartbeat, or palpitations
  • Feeling dizzy/ lightheaded or faint
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen limbs

Lowering your risk

If your type 2 diabetes is well controlled, then your risk for developing heart disease is reduced. Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong disease. Taking care of both your diabetes and heart health in the long-term involves eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and monitoring your blood glucose levels.

You can read more about how you can prevent damage to your blood vessels and lower your heart disease risk here.

Diabetes and strokes 

Can a stroke cause diabetes? While some people are only diagnosed with diabetes after they’ve had a stroke, it’s more common for diabetes to cause a stroke (or a diabetes mini stroke) as high blood pressure levels continue to damage blood vessel walls. 8 Diabetes stroke symptoms include: 

  • Weakness in your face or arms 
  • Slurred speech 
  • Sudden blurred vision 
  • Trouble swallowing 

Although post-stroke patients with diabetes are predisposed to a slower recovery of function, diabetes stroke recovery is possible. A successful recovery requires the brain to remap sensorimotor functions within the brain network. 9

Preventing cardiovascular disease & reducing risk

When it comes to managing cardiovascular disease, preventative efforts are key. Patients with type 2 diabetes should turn to medication, lifestyle changes and risk factor interventions to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. Note, every condition is different and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease will require a different approach from person to person.  

If you have any type of diabetes (type 1, type 2, gestational, adolescent) you should pay close attention to your lifestyle habits. Lifestyle factors that alleviate narrow or clogged blood vessels, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, include:

High cholesterol

Clinical evidence shows that a cholesterol level reduction may lower the mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.

Eating unhealthy food

A nutritionally limited or poor diet can lead to high blood pressure. Try to reduce your daily sodium intake.


Smoking is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Tobacco is known to damage and narrow blood vessels.

Drinking too much alcohol

Studies have indicated a positive correlation between cardiovascular disease and alcohol consumption above recommended limits.


There is also a positive correlation between the reduction of body fat and insulin sensitivity. Addressing weight loss (physical activity is one of many options) is key to achieving steady blood sugar levels. 

how to prevent CVD

Exercising more, eating a balanced diet to lose weight, and cutting out bad habits like excessive drinking and smoking are all great ways to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. 

While lifestyle changes are important for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, it’s also imperative that you continue to monitor blood glucose level carefully and manage your medication.

Read more about diabetes, how to live with diabetes and treatment of diabetes 

About diabetes

About diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a complex chronic disease that occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin. In contrast, type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that affects the body’s ability to convert glucose from food into energy.  Read more about diabetes in general here. 

Living with diabetes

Living with diabetes

Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can be overwhelming at first. We have gathered articles and tips to help you manage your type of diabetes – ranging from diet and exercise to tips and recipes.

Treatment of diabetes
1 min. read

Treatment of diabetes

People living with type 2 diabetes need treatment to keep their insulin and blood glucose levels under control. This can help prevent long-term complications. Read more about treating type 2 diabetes as well as managing it through lifestyle and diet here.

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February 2024, IE23DI00267

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