Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a complication and cause of premature death among people with diabetes. Unfortunately, many people with diabetes do not understand the risk of cardiovascular disease or what they can do to help prevent it.

Diabetes is a disorder in which the body does not make insulin, does not make enough insulin, or does not properly use the insulin it makes (insulin resistance). Insulin helps metabolize glucose, the body's primary source of energy. Without insulin, glucose from food cannot enter cells. Glucose builds up in the blood and body tissues become starved for energy. Over time, persistent high blood glucose levels can damage the arteries, kidneys, eyes, nerves, and other tissues.

Adults with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to have CVD than people without diabetes. In people with diabetes, high blood glucose levels are associated with the development of atherosclerosis. This is a condition in which fatty deposits called plaque damage the lining of the arteries, causing them to narrow and harden. Atherosclerosis, a main cause of CVD, interferes with blood flow—ultimately leading to several manifestations of CVD including:

Why Is There a Risk?

People with type 2 diabetes often have an increased risk of CVD for the following reasons:

  • Their platelets have an added tendency to clump together leading to clotting problems and poor blood flow.
  • They have higher rates of hypertension and obesity.
  • They tend to have lipid disorders, particularly increased LDL or “bad” cholesterol, low levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol, and increased levels of triglycerides.
Who Are the High-risk Groups?

Those with the highest risk for diabetes and its CVD complications include:

  • People with a family history of diabetes
  • Overweight and obese people, especially extra weight around the waist
  • Older people
  • Special populations
    • African Americans
    • Hispanic/Latino Americans
    • Native Americans
    • Asian Americans
    • Pacific Islanders
  • People with diabetes who smoke double their risk of CVD.