Heart Disease & Diabetes

Heart Disease and Diabetes

Atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," is a blood vessel disease (disease of the arteries and veins). It can decrease blood flow or completely block the flow of blood to your brain. People with diabetes often have atherosclerosis, putting them at risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. If you have diabetes, OHSU’s Heart Disease & Diabetes Clinic will provide a team of a cardiologist and an endocrinologist from the Harold Schnitzer Diabetes Health Center, who will collaborate on the best health care plan for you.


Heart disease and stroke are the top enemies of those suffering from diabetes. In fact, diabetics are struck by heart disease and stroke at two times the rate of the rest of the population. Due to diabetic neuropathy (numbness of nerves), you are less likely to feel the symptoms of heart disease such as chest pain. You can control the risk by receiving comprehensive health care that incorporates both blood sugar and lipid control (blood fats including cholesterol). Under the watchful eye of a cardiologist, you can be monitored for high lipid levels and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which is a precursor to heart disease. At the OHSU Heart Disease & Diabetes Clinic, we couple aggressive lipid-lowering therapy with lifestyle modifications for whole body health.

The link between diabetes and heart disease:

Heart and vascular disease often go hand-in-hand with diabetes. Persons with diabetes are at a much greater risk for heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. Other vascular problems due to diabetes include poor circulation to the legs and feet. Unfortunately, many of the cardiovascular problems can go undetected and can start early in life.

What causes heart disease in persons with diabetes?

Persons with diabetes often experience changes in the blood vessels that can lead to cardiovascular disease. In persons with diabetes, the linings of the blood vessels may become thicker, making it more difficult for blood to flow through the vessels. When blood flow is impaired, heart problems or stroke can occur. Blood vessels can also suffer damage elsewhere in the body due to diabetes, leading to eye problems, kidney problems, and poor circulation to the legs and feet.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

The following are the most common symptoms of heart disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • irregular heartbeat
  • swollen ankles

The symptoms of heart disease may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Heart Disease and Diabetes

Prevention and treatment of heart disease in persons with diabetes:

Even when taking proper care of yourself, heart disease may still occur. Specific treatment for heart disease will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

When risk factors are eliminated (or reduced) in a person with diabetes, the risk for heart disease may be reduced. Taking care of yourself and controlling your blood sugar can often slow down or prevent the onset of complications. Other preventive treatment measures may include:

  • See a physician regularly.
  • Have annual electrocardiograms, or EKGs (a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms, and detects heart muscle damage), cholesterol and blood pressure check-ups, and pulse measurement in legs and feet.
  • Pay attention to your symptoms and report them promptly to your physician.
  • Control your blood sugar levels.
  • Control blood pressure levels with lifestyle and diet changes, and/or medication.
  • Keep low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (the “bad” cholesterol) at less than 100 mg/dL.
  • Control your weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Do not smoke
  • Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Always consult your physician for the most appropriate treatment plan based on your medical condition.

Make an Appointment

503 494-1775


OHSU Center for Health & Healing
3303 S.W. Bond Ave.
Portland, OR 97239

OHSU Beaverton Cardiology Clinic
15700 S.W. Greystone Ct.
Beaverton, OR 97006