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Diabetes and Heart Disease

Diabetes and cardiovascular disease

You’ve probably heard that people with diabetes are at risk of multiple health complications, including cardiovascular disease. As it turns out, cardiovascular disease is especially common among people with diabetes: The majority of people with type 2 diabetes will eventually develop it.

Though most have heard of cardiovascular disease, few understand exactly what it involves. Doctors use the term "cardiovascular disease" to describe many conditions affecting blood circulation in the body:

  • Heart disease results when blood circulating to the heart is slowed or stopped because of a blocked artery. Heart disease can result in chest pain, a heart attack or even sudden death.

  • Heart failure occurs when the heart loses its ability to effectively pump blood. Heart failure can be caused by a number of factors, including damage to the heart or blocked arteries.

  • Stroke results when blood flow to the brain is blocked, often because of a blood clot or blockages within arteries.

What causes cardiovascular disease?

Most people associate cardiovascular disease with obesity, but another strong risk factor is age. Your risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases at age 40, but is highest after age 70. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely than others to develop cardiovascular disease. Because this risk is so high, cardiovascular disease remains the most common cause of death in people with diabetes.

Warning signs

Seek medical attention if…

  • You experience chest discomfort when you walk or exercise.

  • You have chest pain accompanied by fatigue or shortness of breath.

  • Your resting heart rate is usually faster than 100 beats per minute.

  • You are a young man with erectile dysfunction.

How is cardiovascular disease detected?

If your doctors suspect cardiovascular disease, they will first look to your family medical history for more insight. Did your mother, father or siblings have heart trouble? Your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is higher if you have family members with the disease. Other risk factors include bad cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. 

Doctors use a variety of tests to detect cardiovascular disease. A routine blood test can reveal whether you have high levels of "c-reactive protein" — a marker that you’re at higher risk. An EKG will reveal whether the heart’s electrical activity is normal.If it’s not, a stress test on a treadmill, for example, will provide further information that may lead to diagnosis. If you are not able to walk on a treadmill, your doctor may “stress” your heart by injecting medications through an IV. This medicine can cause the heart to beat fast and mimic the stress of exercise. Some people will be asked to have an echocardiogram, which provides pictures of the heart to reveal how well the muscles of the heart can squeeze and pump blood.

Protect your heart!

If your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is high, now is the time for action. You can reduce your risk, starting today, by making the following lifestyle changes.Ask your doctor to help you:

  • Quit smoking.

  • Lose weight.

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

  • Exercise.

  • Control your blood pressure.

  • Improve your cholesterol.

  • Determine if you would benefit from aspirin therapy.

  • Set an appropriate HbA1c goal with your doctor and work toward that goal.

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