Diabetes increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, as well as the risk of blockages in arteries leading to the legs or kidneys. Additionally, diabetes can change the symptoms of a heart attack, making the heart attack harder to diagnose.
Understanding how diabetes affects cardiovascular disease is important for both prevention and for knowing when to seek immediate treatment.
Diabetes and Heart Attack
Diabetes increases the risk of having a heart attack, but it may also change the symptoms and make diagnosis more difficult. Classic symptoms of a heart attack are:
- Pain or a tightness in the chest
- Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, jaw, neck, or stomach
- Anxiety, or a sense of doom
Because of nerve damage, people with diabetes may not have typical chest pain during a heart attack. Instead, people with may experience milder chest pressure or sudden shortness of breath or sweating, or even an unexplainable change in blood glucose levels.
Diabetes and Stroke
When people with diabetes have a stroke, the results may be more devastating than for other patients. That's because with diabetes, the arteries throughout the body - including the brain - are often narrowed by atherosclerosis. As a result, when an artery in the brain becomes blocked by a blood clot, causing a stroke, there are fewer alternate routes for blood to flow to the affected part of the brain.
The symptoms of a stroke include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
- Difficulty speaking or understanding words; confusion
- Sudden blurred vision or decreased vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden difficulty swallowing
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Brief loss of consciousness
- Sudden inability to move part of the body (paralysis)
Both heart attack and stroke are emergencies that require immediate treatment. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911.
Diabetes and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet are very common in people with diabetes, particularly after the age of 50. Smoking increases the risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD) even more. The symptoms of PAD include:
- Pain or cramping in the legs while walking or climbing stairs that gets better with rest
- Slowly healing wounds on the legs or feet
- A lower temperature in one leg as compared to the other
- Weak pulses in one or both legs
- Abnormal skin, hair or nails on the legs or feet