Vascular health — keeping your blood vessels working their best — is important for everyone. Healthy blood vessels keep your heart, brain, and other organs working properly.
If you have diabetes, your vascular health is even more important. That’s because diabetes and vascular disease (including heart disease) are connected.
Diabetes doubles your chances of having heart disease or a stroke compared to someone without diabetes. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With diabetes, you also have a higher risk of heart disease at a younger age. And the longer you have diabetes, the greater your chances of having heart disease.
Among adults with diabetes worldwide, diabetic vascular complications are the leading cause of death. That’s according to a report in the Journal of Diabetes Research.
Diabetes can also affect your vascular health in other ways. Here’s what you need to know about diabetes and vascular disease.
How the Vascular System Works
Your body’s vascular system includes vessels that carry blood throughout your body. You may know the vascular system by a different name: the circulatory system.
Your vascular system contains pulmonary vessels and systemic vessels. Pulmonary vessels carry blood from your heart to your lungs and back to your heart. Systemic vessels carry blood from your heart to tissues throughout your body and back to your heart.
The vascular system has three types of blood vessels:
- Arteries. These blood vessels carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to all parts of your body. These vessels are used to measure blood pressure.
- Veins. These carry deoxygenated blood toward your heart.
- Capillaries. These are your body’s smallest and most abundant blood vessels. Capillaries connect your arteries to your veins. They also exchange oxygen and nutrients between your blood and tissue cells.
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What Is Diabetic Vascular Disease?
Diabetic vascular disease isn’t a specific disease. Rather, having diabetes increases your risk of vascular diseases that can affect your heart, brain, kidneys, and other vital organs. According to the Journal of Diabetes Research, having diabetes can cause both macrovascular and microvascular diseases.
Macrovascular diseases affect large blood vessels, such as those in your heart, brain, arms, and legs. Macrovascular disease can lead to the following:
- Cerebrovascular disease. This happens when vascular disease damages blood vessels in your brain. These blood vessels can burst, bleed, or become clogged with fatty deposits. When this happens, it can stop blood flow to your brain and cause a stroke.
- Cardiovascular disease (CVD). This happens when vascular disease damages the blood vessels of your heart. CVD can increase your risk of heart attack. CVD includes heart disease and atherosclerosis.
- Peripheral vascular disease (PVD). This happens when blocked blood vessels stop blood from flowing to where it’s needed in the body. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a type of PVD and diabetic arterial disease. It’s when arteries in your legs, and sometimes arms, become blocked, which can cause wounds, gangrene, or need for amputation.
Microvascular diseases affect smaller blood vessels, such as those found in your eyes, nerves, and kidneys. When diabetes causes microvascular diseases, it can lead to complications, including:
- Diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the retinas of your eyes. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S.
- Neuropathy. Diabetic microvascular disease can damage nerves, which can result in numbness in your hands and feet. It’s common for people with diabetes to not feel cuts, scrapes, or injuries to their feet. If this happens, the wounds may not heal properly, and, in extreme cases, may result in amputation.
- Diabetic nephropathy. This diabetes-related kidney failure happens when diabetes vascular disease causes damage to the blood vessels of the kidneys. This may result in needing dialysis. Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure in the U.S.
How Does Diabetes Cause Vascular Disease?
When it comes to diabetes, high blood sugar, over time, can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control your heart. Diabetes changes the chemistry, or make up, of your blood. It increases your risk of the following health problems that can lead to heart disease, including:
- High blood pressure, which can push on artery walls, damaging your arteries.
- Excess LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which can lead to the formation of plaque that clogs or hardens artery walls. The medical term is atherosclerosis.
- High triglycerides combined with high LDL and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol can also contribute to hardening or narrowing of your arteries.
Preventing Diabetic Vascular Disease
While diabetes increases your risk of vascular disease, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Avoiding serious damage to your blood vessels starts with preventing your diabetes from getting worse.
You can’t feel damage to your blood vessels until it’s too late. Preventing vascular damage from happening in the first place, or from getting worse, starts with keeping close watch of your diabetes. That means seeing your doctor regularly and getting tested for important diabetes numbers, including blood glucose and hemoglobin A1C.
You should also keep tabs on other important heart health numbers, including your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body mass index (BMI). Along with routine blood tests, your doctor may recommend other tests to check your heart health. These include:
- ECG, or electrocardiogram, to measure the electrical activity of your heart.
- Echocardiogram, or an ultrasound of your heart.
- Cardiac catheterization, to examine your heart’s vessels and check for plaque deposits.
- Angiogram, an X-ray of the blood flow throughout your veins and arteries.
Treatment for Diabetic Vascular Disease
The treatment for diabetic vascular disease depends on the type and extent of your vascular disease. Different vascular diseases have different treatments.
You may need medication to control your blood pressure and reduce your cholesterol. You may need to take medication, such as blood thinners, to improve blood flow in your blood vessels. You may also need surgery to fix hardened, clogged, or narrowed arteries.
Whether you can reverse vascular damage caused by diabetes depends on the type of vascular disease and the extent of the damage. The earlier you catch vascular disease, the better the chance that you can prevent it from getting worse and possibly reverse the damage. You will need to follow your doctor’s treatment plan, including taking any prescribed medications, to slow down or undo the damage.
Preventing and treating diabetic vascular diseases also includes making important lifestyle changes to manage your diabetes. These including eating the right foods and getting regular physical activity.
Diabetes and Heart Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Cardiovascular Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Liu, R., Li, L., Shao, C., Cai, H., & Wang, Z. The Impact of Diabetes on Vascular Disease: Progress from the Perspective of Epidemics and Treatments. Journal of Diabetes Research. 2022. Link.
Stratmann B. Dicarbonyl Stress in Diabetic Vascular Disease. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2022. Link.
Your Vascular System. Society for Vascular Surgery. Link.
High Blood Pressure: Symptoms and Causes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Classification and Structure of Blood Vessels. National Cancer Institute. Link.
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About Heart and Vascular Institute
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.
Diabetic vascular disease isn't a specific disease. Rather, having diabetes increases your risk of vascular diseases that can affect your heart, brain, kidneys, and other vital organs. According to the Journal of Diabetes Research, having diabetes can cause both macrovascular and microvascular diseases.What is diabetic vascular disease? ›
Basic Facts. Diabetic vascular disease refers to the hardening of the arteries throughout the body, caused by diabetes mellitus—a condition in which too much sugar, or glucose, builds in the blood because of a lack of insulin or because the body is unable to effectively use insulin.Why would someone with diabetes have vascular problems? ›
High blood sugar can increase your risk for vascular disease. Diabetes increases the risk for developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis happens when arteries harden or narrow from a build-up of a fatty, stick substance called plaque. People who have diabetes may also have high cholesterol.How do you treat diabetic vascular disease? ›
How is diabetic vascular disease treated? Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, controlling high blood pressure, and controlling lipid levels through diet and medications all play an important part in diabetic vascular disease treatment.Can diabetes cause vascular problems? ›
Diabetes mellitus substantially increases the risk of developing coronary, cerebrovascular, and peripheral arterial disease. The pathophysiology of vascular disease in diabetes involves abnormalities in endothelial, vascular smooth muscle cell, and platelet function.What triggers vascular disease? ›
Vascular disease causes include: High cholesterol. High blood pressure. Smoking or using tobacco products.What are early signs of vascular disease? ›
- Wounds that won't heal over pressure points, such as heels or ankles.
- Numbness, weakness, or heaviness in muscles.
- Burning or aching pain at rest, commonly in the toes and at night while lying flat.
- Restricted mobility.
- Thickened, opaque toenails.
- Varicose veins.
Managing diabetic neuropathy. Nerve damage from diabetes can't be reversed. This is because the body can't naturally repair nerve tissues that have been damaged.Which organs are often affected by vascular diseases in diabetics? ›
Serious problems from diabetes.
You are more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, blindness, nerve damage, and foot amputations from diabetes if you also have kidney disease.
Usually when diabetic complications is mentioned it's almost always said that the development of diabetic complications can be slowed rather than reversed. However, in theory the body can do some healing of the damage from complications as long as the right conditions are met.
Walking is especially good for you
Several randomized clinical trials have shown that walking can make a real difference for people with peripheral artery disease, says Emile R. Mohler, III, MD, late Director of Vascular Medicine at Penn Medicine. “Any other exercise is fine.
You can still have a full, active lifestyle with peripheral artery disease, or PAD. The condition happens when plaque builds up in your arteries. This makes it harder for your arms, legs, head, and organs to get enough blood. Although it's serious and can sometimes be painful, there are lots of ways to slow it down.How serious is vascular disease? ›
Vascular diseases can lead to serious cardiovascular complications, such as blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. It is important that people learn to recognize the symptoms of vascular disease so they can seek timely and effective treatment.How can diabetics improve circulation? ›
- The link between diabetes and poor circulation. ...
- How to improve your circulation. ...
- Take quick, frequent exercise breaks. ...
- Exercise to benefit problem areas. ...
- Eat for heart health. ...
- Wear diabetic socks. ...
- Maintain low blood sugar. ...
- Stop smoking.
“Post-meal blood sugars of 140 mg/dl [milligrams per deciliter] and higher, and fasting blood sugars over 100 mg/dl [can] cause permanent organ damage and cause diabetes to progress,” Ruhl writes.Do diabetics get vascular dementia? ›
Together with high blood pressure and elevated lipids — both of which are common in people with diabetes — this can lead to cerebrovascular damage, which might increase the risk of vascular dementia. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar may contribute.What foods are bad for vascular disease? ›
- Coconut or palm oils.
- Whipped cream.
- Fatty meats like ribs, pork chops, ribeyes, etc.
- Processed lunch meat.
- Hot dogs, summer sausage, kielbasa, etc.
- Desserts rich in dairy or sugar.
- Whole milk.
If peripheral vascular disease goes untreated, there is a chance that it may progress into critical limb ischemia, a severe stage of PVD that can result in the loss of an affected limb. But if caught in its early stages, peripheral vascular disease is a treatable and reversible disease.Can you get rid of vascular disease? ›
There's no cure for peripheral arterial disease (PAD), but lifestyle changes and medicine can help reduce the symptoms. These treatments can also help reduce your risk of developing other types of cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as: coronary heart disease. stroke.What does vascular pain feel like? ›
Vascular pain often feels like an uncomfortable heaviness or throbbing sensation. It can also feel like an aching sensation. It usually affects your legs and can be worse with walking or exerting yourself.
If you doctor suspects vascular disease, he or she may order non-invasive vascular testing. These are simple and painless tests using ultrasound to determine the presence, location, and severity of vascular disease.How do you fix vascular problems in legs? ›
There are some medications that can be prescribed to modulate factors that affect the vascular system. These include cholesterol medications, blood pressure medications, and blood thinners. Invasive surgeries can be used to repair damaged veins and arteries.How can I heal my vascular system naturally? ›
- Do not use tobacco. ...
- Eat a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat to reduce your risk of atherosclerosis. ...
- Join a walking program to improve the circulation to your legs and promote growth of new blood vessels. ...
- Lose weight if you are overweight. ...
- Watch your blood pressure.
Diabetic neuropathy can cause a number of serious complications, including: Hypoglycemia unawareness. Blood sugar levels below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) — 3.9 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) — usually cause shakiness, sweating and a fast heartbeat.Does metformin cause neuropathy? ›
In clinical use, however, metformin is associated with reduced plasma vitamin B12 levels, which can further neuropathy.What are the symptoms of vascular disease in the legs? ›
Numbness, weakness, or heaviness in muscles. Pain (described as burning or aching) at rest, commonly in the toes and at night while lying flat. Paleness when the legs are elevated. Reddish-blue discoloration of the extremities.How do you feel when your blood sugar is too high? ›
feeling or being sick. abdominal (tummy) pain. rapid, deep breathing. signs of dehydration, such as a headache, dry skin and a weak, rapid heartbeat.What heals damaged blood vessels? ›
At most, a damaged vein will only ever regain a portion of its previous blood-circulating capabilities. If vein damage is too extensive your body will abandon that vein altogether and rather than try and salvage the blood vessel it will create a new one by a process called angiogenesis.How long does it take for blood vessels to repair? ›
Blood vessels are the major components of the circulatory system. They help in the transport of blood, nutrients, and gases to and fro from the tissues. Angiogenesis is the wound healing process that helps in the repair of blood vessels. It takes up to two weeks to mend the broken blood vessels.How do you fix damaged blood vessels? ›
- Retinoids. Topical creams, especially those with retinoids, may help reduce the appearance of spider veins. ...
- Laser therapy. ...
- Intense pulsed light. ...
There's no cure for peripheral arterial disease (PAD), but lifestyle changes and medicine can help reduce the symptoms. These treatments can also help reduce your risk of developing other types of cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as: coronary heart disease. stroke.Is vascular disease progressive? ›
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a slow and progressive circulation disorder. Narrowing, blockage, or spasms in a blood vessel can cause PVD.What will happen if the vascular disease is not corrected? ›
Treatment may slow or stop the progression of the disease and reduce the risk of complications. Without treatment, PAD may progress, resulting in serious tissue damage in the form of sores or gangrene (tissue death) due to inadequate blood flow.Is walking good for vascular disease? ›
Walking is especially good for you
There's no limitation in what a person with peripheral artery disease can do,” Dr. Mohler notes. “But the majority of the clinical trials out there support the benefits of walking. That is why we recommend it for our patients.”
Symptoms of peripheral vascular disease
Intermittent pain (claudication), which may feel like cramps, muscle fatigue or heaviness (usually in the legs) Worsening pain during exercise (usually in the legs) Easing of pain during rest (usually in the legs) Coldness of the affected body part.
There are some medications that can be prescribed to modulate factors that affect the vascular system. These include cholesterol medications, blood pressure medications, and blood thinners. Invasive surgeries can be used to repair damaged veins and arteries.What age does vascular disease start? ›
Studies have found that children as young as 10 to 14 can show the early stages of atherosclerosis. For some people, the disease advances quickly in their 20s and 30s, while others may not have issues until their 50s or 60s. Researchers aren't exactly sure how or why it begins.How do you slow down vascular disease? ›
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Engage in physical activity every day.
- Limit alcohol.
- Lower blood pressure to less than 120/80 mmHg.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage diabetes (diabetics are two to four times more likely than non-diabetics to develop cardiovascular disease)
PAD is not immediately life-threatening, but the process of atherosclerosis that causes it can lead to serious and potentially fatal problems.What does a vascular doctor do for legs? ›
A vascular doctor prevents, diagnoses and treats diseases that happen in your blood vessels. These are the arteries and veins that bring nutrients into and waste out of your body's many cells and tissues. Because your body needs oxygen and nutrients all the time, healthy blood vessels are important.