Diabetes causes high levels of glucose in your blood. This is because of a problem with a hormone your pancreas produces called insulin. Insulin is responsible for moving glucose (a type of sugar) from your bloodstream and into the cells of your body for energy. If there little or no insulin being produced, or your body has become resistant to insulin, glucose stays in the bloodstream and can’t move across to your cells to give them energy to work properly.
High levels of glucose in your blood can damage the walls of your arteries, and make them more likely to develop fatty deposits (atheroma).
If atheroma builds up in your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart) you will develop coronary heart disease, which can cause angina and heart attack.
Types of diabetes
Type one diabetes happens when your body cannot make insulin. This type most commonly affects children and young adults, and is a result of your body’s immune system attacking the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.
Type two diabetes occurs when your pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin or your body has become resistant to the insulin it’s producing. Type two diabetes is much more common than type 1 and tends to develop gradually as people get older – usually after the age of 40, but more and more people every year are being diagnosed at a much younger age.
It's closely linked with:
- being overweight, especially if you carry weight around your middle
- being physically inactive
- a family history of type 2 diabetes.
Some ethnic groups have a much higher rate of diabetes - particularly people of South Asian and African Caribbean origin.
Diabetes and your heart booklet
People with diabetes have a greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than people who don't have diabetes. Keeping your diabetes under control will help protect your heart health as much as possible.
This booklet is for people who have diabetes, and for their families and friends. It may also be useful if you don't have diabetes but you have been told you may develop it in the future.
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This booklet is also available to download in large print
What can I do to reduce my risk of developing diabetes?
You can greatly reduce your risk of developing type two diabetes by controlling your weight and doing regular physical activity.
The great news is that doing these things will also make you less likely to develop other cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease and stroke - as well as being great for your general mental and physical wellbeing.
How can I protect my heart if I already have diabetes?
If you have diabetes, it’s very important to make sure that you control your blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels to help reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.
To do this you can:
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, you may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering medicine such as statins to help protect your heart.
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Mark Kearney is the BHF Professor of Cardiovascular and Diabetes Research at the University of Leeds. He is studying how diabetes damages blood vessels, and developing ways to avoid it. This research tells us more about the links between diabetes and heart and circulatory diseases, but he has also studied how to best treat people with these conditions with medicine. This research project is just one of hundreds we fund each year to help protect the people you love.
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They're all working to help heart patients: finding new, better treatments for people with heart and circulatory diseases, and developing new ways to better prevent or diagnose it.