Heart disease and stroke account for about 65 % of the deaths in people with diabetes. Diabetes affects the heart in a number of different ways. The two main arteries that surround the heart and supply it while blood are known as the coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries (CAD) occurs when the build up of fatty deposits restrict blood flow and the delivery of nutrients to the heart. When this occurs, you can develop chest pains if you are stressed or if you physically exert yourself. This is known as angina. If there is acute blockage, the symptoms may extend to severe chest pain, breathlessness, sweating, and nausea which may be signs of a heart attack or myocardial infarction.
Heart failure is also more common in people with diabetes. Some of the major symptoms are fatigue, leg swelling and shortness of breath. Many times, heart failure occurs because of heart muscle damage following a heart attack. It is also now recognized that persistent high glucose levels can damage the heart muscles. Another contributing factor to heart failure is long standing high blood pressure associated with diabetes.
Interruption of the blood supply to the brain due to atherosclerosis can cause the brain to be deprived of oxygen and cause some brain cells to die or be damaged. This can lead either to a transient or permanent neurological abnormality referred to as a transient ischemic (TIA) or a stroke. The main risk factor for a stroke is high blood pressure. Older people with diabetes have an increased risk or memory problems. In some of them, this can be the result of small strokes.
According to the ADA, adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about 2 to 4 times higher than adults without diabetes. The risk for stroke in adults with diabetes is 2 to 4 times higher and the risk of death from stroke is 2.8 times higher among people with diabetes.
Women with diabetes fare much worse when it comes to heart disease. Deaths from heart disease have increased 23% over the past 30 years compared to a 27 % decrease in women without diabetes. Deaths from heart disease for men with diabetes have decreased by 13% compared to a 36 % decrease in men without diabetes.