Complications of Diabetes

Heart Disease


IllustrationHeart disease is one of the more common and potentially serious complications of diabetes.  However, there are a number of practical measures that can be taken to reduce the risk.

Heart disease is usually caused by hardening and narrowing (atherosclerosis) of the coronary arteries.  This restricts the supply of blood to the pumping muscle of the heart.  This can lead to pain in the chest on exertion (angina) or to a heart attack.   A heart attack is usually caused by a blood clot forming in a previously narrowed coronary artery (coronary thrombosis).   This leads to permanent damage to part of the heart muscle.

Hardening of the arteries is a common condition that occurs to some extent in all people as we get older. It tends to occur at an earlier age in people with diabetes, unless measures are taken to prevent it.  Although the coronary arteries are particularly vulnerable, arteries to the brain can also be affected causing stroke, and arteries to the legs causing pain on walking (claudication) and the risk of ulcers.

What can I do to prevent it?

The measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of heart disease and other problems of the circulation are as follows: 

  1. Do not smoke – most important.
  2. Take regular exercise – daily if possible.
  3. Eat a healthy diet low in fat, with plenty of fruit, vegetable and natural fibre.
  4. Control your diabetes as carefully as possible.
  5. Reduce your salt and alcohol intake and keep your body weight under control to reduce blood pressure.
  6. Take blood pressure medication regularly, if recommended.
  7. Take cholesterol lowering medication, if recommended.
  8. Aspirin may be recommended to reduce the risk of thrombosis.

Where can I get more information from ?

 Further information may be found on the British Heart Foundation website:


Dr Nishan Wijenaike, Consultant Physician
West Suffolk Hospital Diabetes Service
October 2002