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Our research helps understand risk of heart disease in people with type 2 diabetes

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People living with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease but new research, funded by us, has reinforced that there are things you can do to avoid complications, and suggests that acting early is vital.

Heart disease can lead to heart attacks and strokes. This is also known as cardiovascular disease. The harm that diabetes does to the body can put people with diabetes more at risk of these complications. But we know that you can reduce that risk by having a healthy lifestyle. Looking after your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol also reduces the risk. 

Diabetes UK-funded researcher Professor Martin Rutter and his team at the University of Manchester studied the heart health of people with type 2 diabetes. Five key risk factors affect heart health:

  • Blood sugar levels
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol 
  • Triglycerides (both triglycerides and cholesterol are types of fat found in your blood)
  • Smoking.

They looked at the link between heart disease and the number of these risk factors that were within a healthy range. They also looked at the future risk of cardiovascular complications and death. To do this, the researchers analysed large UK health datasets involving over 430,000 people with type 2 diabetes. They compared their risk with 380,000 people without diabetes.

They found that risk of heart disease went down for each risk factor that was within target range. But they also found that people with type 2 diabetes had a 21% higher risk of heart disease compared to people without diabetes. This was even when all five risk factors were well-managed and in the target range.

The researchers also found that when the risk factors weren’t in the healthy range, the risk of future heart attacks or strokes increased in younger people with type 2 diabetes who didn’t yet have any signs of complications, compared to those with type 2 who already had heart disease.

The right care, at the right time

This suggests that it’s never too early for people with type 2 diabetes to improve their heart health. They could do this through lifestyle changes or medications that help manage blood sugars, blood pressure and blood fats. “People with type 2 diabetes should be treated for cardiovascular risk factors as early as possible, regardless of whether they have cardiovascular disease or not," explained Professor Rutter.

The findings could help to improve guidelines for healthcare professionals. They can then provide people with type 2 diabetes with the best possible care, at the right time.

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said:

“This research, funded by Diabetes UK, shows that although having type 2 diabetes adds to the risk of developing heart disease, by keeping blood sugars, blood pressure and blood fats in a healthy range, and having a healthy lifestyle, you can minimise that risk.

"It is also an important reminder that people with type 2 diabetes should not delay in taking steps to prevent heart disease. Stopping smoking, eating a healthy, balanced diet and being physically active are all ways you can improve your heart health. This research reinforces how essential it is for people with diabetes to get the right care, at the right time to be able to reduce their risk of heart disease effectively.”

Find out more about diabetes and heart disease and how you can reduce your risk.


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