If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, know that you’ve got plenty of company. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports that in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, 37.3 million adults in the U.S.—about 11.3% of the population—had the chronic condition, and that number continues to grow.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body isn’t able to produce insulin, and Type 2 occurs when the body doesn’t use insulin correctly. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, and when it’s uncontrolled, a person’s blood sugar can jump to dangerous levels that require medical treatment.
Over time, elevated blood-sugar levels spell trouble for the entire body, says Dr. Joshua Joseph, an endocrinologist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus and an investigator with the ACCELERATE Research Group, which is working to prevent and treat diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “High levels of blood sugar damage the small and large vessels in the body,” including those around the heart, leading to heart disease, he says. Elevated glucose can also harm the nerves that control the heart.
Indeed, diabetes is correlated with a heightened risk of major adverse cardiac events, such as stroke, heart attack, and death. People with the condition are twice as likely to have a heart disease or stroke as those who don’t have diabetes, and it’s more likely to happen at a younger age. Plus, the longer people have diabetes, the more likely they are to develop heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. Here’s a look at what to know, plus expert tips on keeping your heart—and whole body—healthy.