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The correlation between diabetes and heart disease

There are more than 30 million Americans living with diabetes in 2020. And heart disease is among the leading causes of death for adults with type 2 diabetes. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 7 in 10 people with diabetes over age 65 will die of heart disease and that 1 in 6 will die of stroke.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that impacts the processes for how your body turns food into energy. When someone has diabetes, their body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that converts glucose (or blood sugar) into energy, causing sugar to build up in the bloodstream.

“Too much glucose in the blood can damage the blood vessels and nerves connected to the heart and brain. This can lead to an array of vascular-related conditions, including an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,” says Joel M. Phares, M.D., a specialist in cardiovascular disease on the medical staff at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia and affiliated with Vanderbilt Heart. “However, by managing your diabetes and reducing other risk factors, you can help to delay the development of heart disease.”

According to the American Heart Association, risk factors for developing heart disease — particularly when paired with diabetes — include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal cholesterol and/or high triglycerides
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Poorly controlled blood sugars
  • Smoking

“The long-term effects of diabetes can take a significant toll on your circulatory system,” Dr. Phares says. “That is why it is essential for those with diabetes to meet regularly with their health care provider to manage the disease and these risk factors. Your doctor might also recommend vascular screenings and a consultation with a cardiologist as appropriate to monitor your risk.”

Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia offers a number of services for diabetes management, including an eight-hour diabetes self-management class and a nutrition therapy program for diabetes (both available with a physician’s order) as well as a monthly support group for those with the disease and their family members. Vascular screenings and cardiology services are also available.


An official headshot of Dr. PharesJoel M. Phares, M.D.,

is a board-certified specialist in cardiovascular disease on the medical staff at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia, Tennessee. He is affiliated with Vanderbilt Heart.