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Heart Disease and Diabetes

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What Causes Heart Disease in People With Diabetes?

The most common cause of heart disease in a person with diabetes is hardening of the coronary arteries or atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrition to the heart.

This build up of cholesterol usually begins before the increase in blood sugars that occurs in type 2 diabetes. In other words, heart disease almost always has established itself prior to the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

When the cholesterol plaques can break apart or rupture, it causes blood clots and blocks the blood vessel. This can lead to a heart attack. The same process can happen in all of the arteries in the body, resulting in lack of blood to the brain, causing a stroke or lack of blood to the feet, hands, or arms causing peripheral vascular disease.

Not only are people with diabetes at higher risk for heart disease, they're also at higher risk for heart failure, a serious medical condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood adequately. This can lead to fluid build-up in the lungs that causes difficulty breathing, or fluid retention in other parts of the body (especially the legs) that causes swelling.

What Are Some Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

The symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Feeling faint.
  • Feeling dizzy.
  • Excessive and unexplained sweating.
  • Pain in the shoulders, jaw, and left arm.
  • Chest pain or pressure (especially during activity).
  • Nausea.

Remember not everyone has pain and these other classic symptoms with a heart attack. This is especially true for women.

*If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Peripheral vascular disease has the following symptoms:

  • Cramping in your legs while walking (intermittent claudication) or hips or buttocks pain
  • Cold feet.
  • Decreased or absent pulses in the feet or legs.
  • Loss of fat under the skin of the lower parts of the legs.
  • Loss of hair on the lower parts of the legs.
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