Skip to content
The NDSS is administered by Diabetes Australia
Read aloud

Heart disease

Even if you have healthy levels of cholesterol and no symptoms, diabetes can put you at risk of heart disease. Diabetes can change the chemical makeup of some of the substances found in the blood, and this can cause blood vessels to narrow or clog up completely.

Maintaining fitness through regular physical activity combined with some weight loss can help reduce high blood pressure. Medications to lower blood pressure are often required.

Read more in our fact sheet Looking after your heart.

How are you going with your diabetes health checks?

Regular checks can help prevent serious diabetes-related complications like problems with your feet, eyes, heart and kidneys. Individual members of your health care team will let you know how often you need checks, so you can schedule them into your calendar.

Detecting heart disease

Often people do not know they have heart disease until they develop symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or excessive fatigue when walking or exercising. It is important to note that symptoms may be mild to severe, while sometimes there may be no symptoms at all.

Examples of some other warning symptoms may be:

  • arm or jaw discomfort
  • indigestion
  • weakness
  • nausea.
If you think you might be having a heart attack, phone 000 IMMEDIATELY.

Lower your risk of heart disease

Discuss your individual risk factors and how to reduce them with your doctor or diabetes educator.

You can reduce the risk by:

  • being physically active
  • losing weight if you are overweight
  • managing blood fats (cholesterol)
  • managing high blood pressure
  • not smoking
  • taking medication as prescribed.

Be physically active

Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure and help reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke. Any type of physical activity—be it sports, household work, gardening or work-related physical activity—will help.

Aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Moderate intensity is when your breathing increases noticeably—a ‘little bit of puff’. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Read more about exercise.

Lose weight

Being overweight, especially around the waist is a major risk factor for heart disease. Even a 10% weight loss (for example a loss of 10kg in a 100kg person) reduces the risk of heart disease.

Don’t smoke–if you do, try and quit

If you smoke, your risk of heart disease is very high as compared to a non-smoker. Stopping smoking at any age can significantly improve health, including reducing the risk of heart disease.

It can be difficult to stop smoking, but there are many programs to help you. You can:

  • call Quitline on 13 7848 or visit the Quitline website
  • talk to your doctor about other available options.

Take medications as prescribed

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in people with diabetes. Statins (medicines that reduce cholesterol) are usually required to manage cholesterol levels to reduce the risk. The most recent research indicates that statins should be considered for all adults with diabetes, even those without any signs of heart disease. Medication, referred to as ‘blood pressure-lowering agents’ can also help lower high blood pressure. You may require more than one agent.

Ask your doctor about aspirin to help reduce the risk of heart attack. Aspirin in low doses is sometimes recommended for people at risk of heart attacks, as it makes the blood thinner and less likely to clog blood vessels.

Always take your medication as prescribed by your doctor. If you have any concerns, discuss them with doctor; do not alter your medication yourself.

Your pharmacist and diabetes educator can also answer any questions or concerns that you may have.

For more information about heart disease see The Heart Foundation.

Related information