Types of Heart Disease Linked to Type 2 Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on January 16, 2022
3 min read

From clogged arteries to heart failure, type 2 diabetes can affect your ticker in a lot of ways. To help protect yourself, learn about the kinds of heart disease that are linked to diabetes and the warning signs to watch for.

This is the most common type of heart disease in people with diabetes. When you have it, the arteries that carry blood to the muscle of your heart have a buildup of a fatty, waxy substance called plaque.

With time, plaque gets hard and makes your arteries stiff. As more of it collects, there's less room for blood to flow, so your heart doesn't get the oxygen it needs. Clumps of plaque can also burst apart, making you more likely to get blood clots in those vessels.

Add it all up, and it can lead to conditions like:

Angina. You may feel pain, pressure, or squeezing in your chest. You might even feel it in your arms, back, or jaw as well. Sometimes it feels a lot like indigestion. Physical activity and strong emotions can set it off or make it worse.

Arrhythmia. This is when your heart rate or rhythm is off. You might feel like your heart skips a beat, flutters, or beats too fast. At its worse, it can cause sudden cardiac arrest, where your heart stops beating.

Heart attack. It's caused by a clot that cuts off blood flow in the arteries of the heart. You're likely to have pain or discomfort in the center or left side of your chest. But that's not always the case. With diabetes, you have higher odds of silent heart attacks, where you don't even feel it happen.

Despite the name, it doesn't mean your heart has stopped working. It's just that it's too weak to pump enough blood to your body. Over time, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure all make you more likely to have it. They wear down your heart muscle because they keep it working too hard for too long.

When your body doesn't get enough blood, your cells don't get the oxygen they need. That can lead to symptoms like:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Hard time exercising
  • Heartbeat that's too fast or off-rhythm
  • Problems staying focused
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet
  • Trouble breathing


If you don't manage your diabetes closely, you could get a condition called cardiomyopathy. Your heart muscle gets thick and stiff. It just can't work the same, which can lead to rhythm problems and heart failure.

Early on, you might not have any symptoms. But as the condition gets worse, it can lead to:

  • Shortness of breath, even when you're resting
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing, especially when you're lying down
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Feeling weak and tired
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet


Diabetes is also tied to:

High blood pressure. This happens when blood pushes against the walls of your blood vessels with a stronger force than normal. It makes your heart work harder than usual and damages your blood vessels.

Most people with type 2 diabetes also have high blood pressure. Together, they put a lot of extra strain on your heart, boosting your chance of having serious issues like heart disease and stroke.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD). With this condition, you have plaque buildup in the arteries of your legs. It typically causes pain in your calves. You'll feel it when you walk or climb stairs, and it usually goes away with rest. Your legs may also feel heavy, numb, or weak.

PAD is also a warning sign. That's because if you have plaque in your legs, you might have it in your heart, too. In fact, PAD raises your odds of having a stroke or heart attack.

Stroke. Diabetes also means you're more likely to have a stroke, where blood flow to part of your brain gets cut off. The symptoms may come on suddenly and include:

  • Drooping face, causing a lopsided smile
  • A hard time talking, such as slurred speech
  • Weakness in one arm, making it hard to lift and keep both arms in the air

It's a life-threatening problem, and you need to get medical help right away. The sooner you get treatment, the more likely you are to prevent long-term problems.