Skip to content

Diabetes and Heart Health: What You Need to Know in 2023

Written by: Content Team



Time to read 8 min

Suffering from diabetes means you're also at risk of heart disease. If you develop cardiovascular disease and you can't manage it, you may later experience a heart attack or stroke. Your chances of experiencing poor circulation increase too, which can become increasingly difficult to manage as you get older.

Taking good care of yourself is a great way to keep your heart healthy and offset the effects of diabetes. In this guide, we'll help you learn why you're more likely to develop heart disease. We'll also highlight ways you can manage it, including free resources that make lifestyle changes easier.

Diabetes and its Impact on Heart Health

If you have diabetes, evidence suggests that you're almost twice as likely to suffer from a stroke or heart attack. You also have a higher risk of experiencing heart failure and peripheral arterial disease (narrowed blood vessels in your legs). Fortunately, there are ways to manage your risk profile.

Why Diabetes Increases Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

High blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels and create extra work for your heart. When your blood glucose increases, your heart needs to work harder. It also causes inflammation that increases cholesterol buildup and hardens your arteries. When your arteries stiffen, your heart pumps against raised resistance and is placed under strain.

Over time, high blood glucose also damages the nerves in your heart. As those nerves deliver the electrical signals the heart needs to work efficiently, this disrupts normal blood flow.

Other than high blood glucose, your condition may impact the relationship between diabetes and heart health in the following ways:

  • Insulin resistance makes your blood vessels smaller, forcing your heart to work harder. It also increases the amount of salt you retain which then elevates your blood pressure.
  • If your body struggles to convert glucose into usable energy, it may produce more triglycerides. As a result, your bad cholesterol increases.
  • Your body's good cholesterol (HDL) will spend time clearing out bad cholesterol (LDL). As a result, there's less HDL available to protect your blood vessels.
  • Overall, having high LDL and low HDL further increases your risk of narrow and stiff arteries (atherosclerosis).

Common Cardiovascular Complications in Diabetes

The term cardiovascular complications covers heart disease and conditions that affect the blood vessels. When you have diabetes, your risk of both increases.

People with diabetes are at risk of developing:

  • Hypertension: High blood pressure is a common risk factor for people with diabetes. If you develop it, it can increase your risk of other types of heart disease. For example, poorly managed hypertension makes heart failure more likely.
  • Coronary artery disease: This is a condition where the blood vessels that supply your heart narrow. It can reduce blood flow to your heart, which then increases your risk of chest pain (angina) and heart attacks.
  • Valvular heart disease: Your heart relies on a series of valves that allow blood to flow from one chamber to the next. Damage to these valves makes it harder for blood to move through the heart efficiently. As a result, you may feel tired and short of breath.
  • Peripheral artery disease: PAD occurs when the blood vessels in your legs narrow, causing blood to pool there. This may cause pain and numbness. In some cases, painful ulcers and skin infections occur.
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction): Heart attacks arise when something blocks the flow of blood to a part of the heart. This may result in permanent damage to the heart muscle and a significant decrease in your quality of life.
  • Arrhythmias: Irregular heartbeats may occur due to weakened heart muscle following a heart attack or because of nerve damage. You may experience palpitations and dizziness. In severe cases, an arrhythmia can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Heart failure: Heart failure is an irreversible condition where your heart can no longer pump efficiently. At its earlier stages it may produce chest pain and breathlessness. When the condition worsens, it can severely restrict your ability to perform everyday activities.

Management of Diabetes for Heart Health

While diabetes increases your risk of heart disease, there are ways you can manage it. A combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and alternative therapies is available.

Overall, the aim of medication is to keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol within the right ranges. If you can tick those three boxes, you stand a strong chance of protecting your heart.


Your first port of call for reducing heart disease risk factors is to follow your diabetes treatment plan. Whether you manage your high blood sugar with insulin or an oral medication, adherence is important. Keeping your blood sugar levels within an acceptable range is one of the best things you can do for your heart.

Even with excellent medication adherence, there's still a chance you'll need other drugs. They may include:

  • Statins: Statins reduce your LDL cholesterol levels. They lower your risk of narrow and stiff arteries. As a result, you're less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
  • ACE-Inhibitors: ACE-Is relax your blood vessels when you're suffering from high blood pressure. They're excellent at preventing and managing heart failure.
  • Other antihypertensives: Depending on how well your body responds to an ACE-I, your doctor may need to try another antihypertensive drug. They can include diuretics and calcium channel blockers. If you are black or of Afro-Caribbean descent, your doctor may prescribe an angiotensin-II receptor blocker instead of an ACE-I.
  • Beta-blockers: Drugs such as propranolol block the effects of adrenaline and slow your heart rate. They're useful for managing arrhythmias and by reducing strain on your heart they lower your heart attack risk.

The type of medications you use will depend on a variety of factors. They include how well you tolerate them, other medications you're taking, and other underlying conditions.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes play an important role in heart disease prevention. In many respects, the way you modify your lifestyle is as important as managing your medications. Without healthy living, many medications won't reach their full efficacy.

Adapting your lifestyle to reduce the risk of heart disease benefits your overall well-being. The efforts you make can also stabilize your blood sugar levels, making it easier for you to manage your diabetes overall.

Weight Loss

Losing weight comes with multiple benefits. When you're carrying extra weight around your abdomen, you increase your insulin resistance. This, in turn, means you're more likely to suffer from heart disease.

Shifting 5% of your weight is an effective way to lower your blood pressure and increase your HDL levels. If you have another condition, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, you may need to lose more. Your GP or diabetes nurse can offer more advice on the targets to aim for.

Losing weight isn't always easy, but using these free resources can make it easier. You may want to try the 12-week plan, which includes recipes, monitoring, and exercise advice.

Many private plans come with the added benefit of attending groups in person. These groups can help you feel less alone on your weight loss journey and may provide some accountability.

As you lose weight, don't forget to update your GP or diabetes nurse on your progress. They may need to adjust some of your medications so you're still benefiting from the right dose.


Staying fit isn't just about losing weight. It reduces your risk of heart disease in other ways too. Your circulatory system will become more efficient, your heart will grow stronger, and you can offset insulin resistance.

The trick with exercise isn't to find the toughest regime possible. Instead, focus on trying something that fits with your lifestyle and that you enjoy. Even a brisk walk every day can reduce your risk of heart disease.

If you're not a big fitness fan and you don't know where to start, try the following:

  • Couch to 5K: As a running plan for beginners, this program aims to help you to the stage where you can run 5K without stopping. It lasts for around nine weeks and you'll receive guidance via an app. Running regularly may reduce your risk of dying from heart disease by up to 30 percent.
  • Walking: Going for a stroll may feel more palatable than running, especially if you suffer from stiff joints. Fortunately, walking can reduce your risk of heart disease too. Taking a brisk walk of just 10 minutes a day benefits your health.
  • Swimming: If you want to alleviate pressure on your joints further while still protecting your heart, try swimming. There's a pool finder tool that's useful for finding your nearest private and council-run swimming spots.
  • YouTube: YouTube is home to a broad selection of fitness instructors who provide free workouts. If leaving the house is an issue or you're strapped for time, you can search for an activity on the streaming site and add it to your routine.

If you suffer from type 1 diabetes, always discuss new exercise plans with a medical professional. The fitness routine you adopt may change the amount of insulin you need to take.

Stress Management

Another major contributor to heart disease when you have diabetes is stress. Although stress alone doesn't cause conditions such as heart attacks, the way you respond to it will. Experiencing periods of anxiety may cause you to turn to junk food, alcohol, and can reduce your ability to stick to your diabetes treatment plan.

Exercise and healthy eating will both reduce your stress levels. Staying fit releases endorphins, which boost your mood. Eating a healthy diet prevents the type of energy crashes that make everyday problems feel unmanageable.

You may want to avoid certain actions too. For example, while alcohol might temporarily make you feel better, in the long term it intensifies anxious feelings. It also increases your risk of heart disease further. Similarly, smoking may satisfy a craving, but it raises your blood pressure and makes you more likely to have a heart attack.

If everyday healthy living doesn't improve your stress levels, you may need further help. You can try a combination of the following:

  • Speak to your GP: Your GP can prescribe anti-anxiety medications. They may also refer you for counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Try a meditation app: Apps such as Calm and Headspace provide breathing exercises that may lower your blood pressure. They also have guided meditations that make falling asleep easier.
  • Peer support: Accessing peer support may help you feel accepted and understood if you're struggling with your mental health. Groups are available online and in person.

Taking a positive approach to stress management means you're less likely to engage in harmful behaviors. It may also boost your confidence, especially if you find yourself becoming good at a method such as exercise or meditation.


Whether you make a lifestyle change or try medication, it's important to monitor your progress. Track your blood sugar levels and, if necessary, your blood pressure and cholesterol. Make sure you attend any regular checkups, too, so your healthcare team can make any necessary changes.


Having diabetes can significantly increase your risk of heart disease. That’s why it's important to keep your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure within healthy ranges. What those ranges are may vary according to your age, race, and other factors. Your doctor or diabetes nurse can offer more advice on this.

As well as using the right medications, it's important to adapt your lifestyle. Doing so doesn't need to feel overwhelming and can benefit many other areas of your life.

At InsuJet, we can make managing your diabetes easier with our needle-free injections. They're convenient and offer a painless alternative to traditional insulin delivery. To learn more, explore our range here.

Your Cart

Your cart is currently empty