Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce or properly utilize insulin, the hormone that
converts sugar and starch into energy. As a result, too much sugar builds up in the bloodstream and plaque begins to coat the inside of blood vessels. This can lead to complications including not only heart disease but also blindness, kidney disease, and limb amputation.
People with diabetes often do not experience chest pain because the disease causes neuropathy, a nerve disorder in which a person feels pain that isn’t there, or does not feel pain when he or she should. Neuropathy can even mask the chest pain that comes from a heart attack. This is a dangerous situation for both men and women.
But it is even more critical for women with diabetes because they are more likely than diabetic men to develop heart disease. Studies indicate that diabetes doubles a woman’s
risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and women who have diabetes are far more likely than men to have additional risk factors, including:
• High cholesterol levels
• Uncontrolled high blood pressure
• Trouble controlling their blood glucose level
Diabetes also erases the so-called “gender protection” that women have against heart disease. A man’s risk for heart disease begins rising at the age of 45. For women the risks don’t go up until about 10 to 15 years later, when she is 55 or 60 years old.
But diabetes closes this gap. In fact, according to a new study in the journal Diabetes Care, when a woman under 60 has diabetes, her risk of heart disease quadruples — making it roughly the same as that of a man her age.
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