Diabetes: Lower Your Risk for Heart Attack and Stroke

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For some people, diabetes can cause problems that increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Many things can lead to a heart attack or stroke. These include high blood sugar, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Lifestyle and genetics may also play a part.

But here's the good news: The things you're doing to stay healthy with diabetes also help your heart and blood vessels. That means eating healthy foods, quitting smoking, getting exercise, and staying at a healthy weight.

What increases your risk?

When you have diabetes, your risk for heart attack and stroke is even higher if you have:

  • High blood pressure. It pushes blood through the arteries with too much force. Over time, this damages the walls of the arteries.
  • High cholesterol. It causes the buildup of a kind of fat inside the blood vessel walls. This buildup can lower blood flow to the heart muscle and raise your risk for having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Kidney damage. It shares many of the risk factors for heart attack and stroke (such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol).

How can you lower your risk?

Diabetes raises your risk of heart attack and stroke. But the healthy choices that help manage your diabetes also help your heart. Add a few heart-healthy habits, and you'll lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

  • Eat wisely.

    Plan your meals with diabetes in mind. Then think heart-healthy, and make changes if needed.

    Start with carbs.
    • Try to eat about the same amount of carbohydrates throughout the day. This helps keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.
    • Use carb counting or the plate method to balance your carbs.
    Add a heart-healthy focus.
    • Choose foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fat, trans fat, and salt. That means vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains.
    • Cook with canola, olive, or peanut oil instead of butter.
    • Limit salty, processed foods such as crackers, chips, cookies, and canned soups.
    • Work with a registered dietitian if you need food tips that are healthy for both your heart and your diabetes.
  • Be active.

    Being active is good for your diabetes and your heart. It helps manage your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. And it can help you stay at a healthy weight.

    • Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.
    • Choose a way to be active that you enjoy. Walking is a good choice if you're just starting out or your time is limited. Including resistance exercise helps to improve your fitness level and improve your blood sugar control.
    • Day by day or week by week, add a little more time or effort to your activity. Build up to at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Track your levels.
    Know your blood sugar goals.

    Get your diabetes A1c tests on schedule. If you test your blood sugar at home, do your best to keep your blood sugar within your target range.

    Know your blood pressure.

    Think about taking your blood pressure at home. Keep a record, and share it with your doctor. Your doctor will give you a goal that's right for you.

    Get a urine test to check for protein.

    Protein in the urine can be a sign of kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy). If you have signs of kidney damage, you may also have a higher risk for heart disease.

  • Focus on good health.
    Work closely with your health professionals.

    Make sure that each doctor you see has all of your medical information, including test results. If you have questions about tests, medicines, exercise, or a healthy diet, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.

    Don't smoke.

    Smoking raises your risk of a heart attack or stroke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These programs and medicines can make it easier to quit for good.

    Take your medicine every day, as prescribed.

    Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble with a medicine.


Current as of: October 2, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.