Heart Health


Why Are People With Diabetes More at Risk for Heart Disease?

Did you know that a person with diabetes has the same risk for heart disease as someone who has already had a heart attack? In fact, heart attacks can occur at an earlier age for people with diabetes, and often have more severe outcomes. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than people without diabetes. According to the American Heart Association, at least 65% of people with diabetes die from a cause related to heart disease1. Fortunately, you can decrease that risk by making certain lifestyle changes.

Diabetes alters your body functions so that your heart must work harder. The composition of fats in the blood, including bad cholesterol (LDL), good cholesterol (HDL), and triglycerides (fat stored in body cells) is worsened causing the arteries to become thick and stiff. When the arteries harden, the heart must work harder; blood pressure and circulation are affected and it can lead to heart attack or stroke. This can happen earlier in life for people with diabetes.

How Can the Risk of Heart Disease Be Reduced?

You can lower your risk by learning about your condition and becoming an active diabetes manager. Your steps include:

  • Regular checkups with your health care team
  • Active health management through diet and exercise
  • Better control of blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels

Understanding Cholesterol’s Role in Heart Disease

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in your body's cells, including blood cells. It is a necessary building block in your body, and your body actually makes all of the cholesterol it needs. The catch? Cholesterol also is found in some of the foods we eat, sometimes at unhealthy levels. Because high cholesterol can be a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke, now is the time to cut it down to healthy levels.

Pinpoint the Problem

Research shows that the majority of people with diabetes have one or more cholesterol problems, including high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and increased triglycerides (fat stored in body cells). The only way to tell if your cholesterol is out of the normal range is to have a blood test. The American Diabetes Association recommends this test at least once a year for people with diabetes.

Target Cholesterol Levels

LDL (bad) cholesterol

  • Below 100 mg/dL

HDL (good) cholesterol

  • Above 50 mg/dL


  • Below 150 mg/dL


What Can You Do?

Lowering LDL is your first line of defense, and you can achieve this goal by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Next, focus on increasing your HDL levels and managing your triglycerides. Do this the same way you manage bad cholesterol, through healthy diet and exercise. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medication might be necessary.

Remember, the first step to controlling your cholesterol is to know your numbers. Talk to your physician during your next visit to schedule a cholesterol blood test if you have not had one in the past year. Be proactive, work with your health care team to lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. You might find that you’re effectively managing your diabetes at the same time.

1. American Heart Association. Cardiovascular Disease & Diabetes. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Diabetes/WhyDiabetes Matters/Cardiovascular-Disease-Diabetes_UCM_313865_Article.jsp. Assessed August 2013.

2. National Cholesterol Education Program. Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) final report. Circulation