Heart & Stroke Conditions Explained


Diabetes and your heart

Diabetes is a life-long condition where there is too much sugar in your blood.

Normally the body uses a hormone called insulin to help sugar move from the blood into the cells. However if the body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin doesn’t work properly, your blood sugar levels go too high and diabetes can develop.

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes happens when your body stops making insulin completely. It is usually diagnosed in children and young people.
  • Type 2 diabetes happens when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin doesn’t work properly.


How is diabetes linked to heart disease and stroke?

Diabetes is closely linked to heart attack, angina and stroke. Having high blood sugar levels means that your blood vessels are more likely to develop a build up of fatty material.

Those who have Type 2 diabetes are three times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke than people who do not have diabetes.


Women with diabetes have an increased risk.

In particular, women with diabetes may lose the normal protection they have from heart disease before the menopause. Women with diabetes have a four to six-fold increase in the risk of developing heart disease, whereas men with diabetes have a two-to-three fold increase in risk.


Other risk factors

When diabetes is associated with other risk factors such as a high blood cholesterol level, high blood pressure and smoking, the risk of heart attack and stroke is high. Keeping blood sugar levels controlled will help to protect your heart health.


Related topics: atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, angina.


Diabetes and your heart

You may remember feeling unwell before you were diagnosed but did not feel unwell enough to say you were ill. This is very common with diabetes.

Symptoms can include:

  • Always feeling tired
  • Constant thirst or a dry mouth
  • Passing more urine than usual
  • Blurred vision
  • Itching of the skin or genitals
  • Frequent infections
  • Cuts or sores that are slow to heal
  • Unexplained weight loss

Type 1 diabetes comes on suddenly with very high blood sugar levels; but if you have Type 2 diabetes, you might have had some of these symptoms but thought that they were due to other ailments.

These symptoms may also be present if your diabetes is not controlled and if this happens you should speak to your family doctor.


Diabetes and your heart

The cause of Type 1 diabetes is genetic and not related to lifestyle.

Type 2 diabetes usually occurs in adulthood. Many factors can influence the chances of you developing this type of diabetes, such as:


Diabetes and your heart

Keeping a healthy heart will reduce the risk of diabetes.

The good news is that by taking steps to protect yourself against heart disease and stroke such as regular physical activity, healthy eating, keeping to a healthy weight and not smoking, you will also reduce your risk of developing diabetes.


Diabetes and your heart

Different tests can be used to diagnose diabetes.

  • Blood glucose test: This test finds out how much sugar is in your blood at one point in time. It can be done with or without fasting.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test: This test involves fasting for eight to 12 hours and then drinking a sugary drink. Two hours later, the amount of sugar in your blood is then measured.


Diabetes and your heart

There is no cure for diabetes, but the level of sugar in your blood can be carefully controlled through a combination of approaches.

Type 1 diabetes is managed by daily insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes is managed by healthy eating, being active and managing your weight. Tablets or insulin may also be needed.

If you have diabetes, you may also need to take a medicine to lower your cholesterol level and to help protect your heart.

Support for You

Diabetes and your heart

The Irish Heart Foundation offers a range of free support services to those affected by heart disease or stroke that can greatly improve their quality of life. These include support groups, physical exercise classes, therapy sessions and more.

For more information on these supports, see our Patient Supports page.

If you have any questions about heart disease or stroke, you can also call the Irish Heart Foundation’s Nurse Support on (01) 668 5001 to speak to a nurse specialist who will answer your questions, and give you guidance and reassurance.


Diabetes and your heart

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