The Intimate Link Between Diabetes and Heart Disease

Globally, Type 2 diabetes is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 30.3 million people in the United States have diabetes. As startling as that statistic is, it does not include the 84 million Americans living with prediabetes—a condition that when left untreated will likely lead to Type 2 diabetes.

As the incidence of diabetes steadily increases, so has the number of new cases of heart disease and cardiovascular complications. In fact, a person with diabetes has twice the chance of developing heart disease as someone without this condition. What's the correlation?

People with diabetes often have two chronic conditions that increase their risk of heart disease and stroke: high blood pressure and high cholesterol. While diabetes itself is the strongest risk factor for heart disease, research has shown that the connection between the two starts with high blood glucose (sugar) levels. Over time, high glucose levels in the bloodstream damage the arteries, causing them to harden which can eventually block blood flow to the heart or brain—leading to a heart attack or stroke.

“The blood vessels in patients with diabetes are more susceptible to other risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even smoking,” said Edward Marcaccio, MD, Chief of Vascular Surgery. “In fact, more than 90 percent of patients with diabetes have one or more of these additional risk factors.”

The growing ‘epidemic’ of patients with both diabetes and cardiovascular disease inspired members of South Shore Health’s diabetes and cardiovascular clinicians to explore a more innovative, thoughtful way to bring awareness, education, and support to the community.

“The goal was to not only to reach those individuals living with diabetes or heart disease, but also to educate those who may be at risk for developing these conditions,” said Anne-Marie Firestone, RN, diabetes outpatient coordinator. “That is when the idea developed to transform our annual Diabetes Expo into our first-ever Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness Expo.”

South Shore Health’s diabetes educators, located at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth and South Shore Medical Center, are recognized by the American Diabetes Association as a diabetes self-management education program that provides specialized services to people with prediabetes, newly-diagnosed with diabetes, or to those who have been managing their diabetes for years.

“We’ve noticed a steady uptick in patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes that also suffer from cardiovascular disease, and our goal is to reach and educate as many people in the community as possible—those that may be either pre-diabetic or even undiagnosed,” said Firestone. “We take our commitment to support the community through awareness and education very seriously.”

While there have been many advances in the treatment of cardiovascular disease over the past two decades, it is still by far the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes, leading to death in both men and women with diabetes. Those who suffer from uncontrolled diabetes for a long period of time are twice as likely to develop heart disease at a younger age.

Fortunately, many of the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease involve lifestyle decisions that can not only be reduced with time and effort, but even eliminated completely over time.

Learn more about the link between diabetes and cardiovascular health from Dr. Marcaccio and other experts at South Shore Health’s FREE Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness Expo on October 14 from 8:30 AM–1:30 PM.