Diabetes Can Cause Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to any disease of heart or the blood vessels. The heart and blood vessels, together make up the cardiovascular system (CVS), are responsible for blood circulation. Diseases of the cardiovascular system may be due to damage to those nerves responsible for adjusting blood pressure and heart rate, damage to the veins and arteries which transport the blood throughout the body, or damage to the heart itself. Diabetes can cause this damage. Adults with diabetes have greater risk of cardiovascular diseases than the general population and are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or suffer a stroke than non-diabetics. It is estimated that two out of three persons diagnosed with diabetes will die from heart disease or stroke

Peripheral Arterial Disease

Cardiovascular disease takes a number of different forms and Peripheral Arterial disease (PAD) is one of these. PAD is a type of cardiovascular disease in which the arteries become narrowed or blocked by deposits of fat or fat like substances. The blockage decreases blood flow to the arteries of the head, arms, legs kidneys and stomach and can also produce pain in the legs and feet. There is an increased risk of amputation of the feet and arms and PAD may also be a sign that they are deposits of fat in other arteries as well. These types of buildups of fat are possible in the arteries of the brain and of the heart. If you have Peripheral arterial disease, you will also have increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What causes these deposits of fat?

A diabetic will usually have;

  • High levels of insulin in the blood
  • High levels of sugar in the blood
  • High fat levels in the blood
  • High cholesterol levels.

These are responsible for increasing the amount of fat deposited in the arteries. High insulin levels increase the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol deposited it the arteries. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) increase the levels of an amino acid called homo-cysteine, which promotes the buildup of fatty deposits inside the arteries (atherosclerosis). This contributes to artery hardening, increased stiffness and narrowing of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), and accelerates the development of heart and blood vessel disease.

Why do deposits of fat occur in the arteries?

No one is quite sure, but what seems to happen is that damage to the inner walls of the arteries occurs as a result of:

  • smoking,
  • insulin resistance,
  • diabetes,
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol levels.

The body reacts as it does to any damage anywhere else, by starting a healing process that results in the formation of tiny amounts of scar tissue. This scar tissue then creates an area of roughness under the thin layer of cells that line inner walls of the arteries (this layer of cells is called the epithelial layer). The damaged area serves as a sort of scaffolding, to which the fatty deposits attach themselves and build up over time.

Formation of the blood clot

This buildup of plaque can become unstable, burst through the inner lining of the arterial wall and get into the center of the blood vessel causing a blood clot. This event is known as thrombosis and the blood clot is called a thrombus.

The thrombus, blocks off the artery and prevents the free flow of blood downstream. Thrombosis (blood clotting) may occur anywhere in the Cardiovascular System, and the thrombus may break off and travel to any location in the body via the blood stream. Tissues depending on that blood, which are beyond the blockage, begin to weaken and die. If this happens to the arteries supplying the heart muscle (the myocardium) with blood, the most likely result will be a heart attack. If it happens in the brain, you get a stroke.