Heart Disease Stroke Health Care Professionals Fact Sheets Contact Us

Heart Disease, Stroke and Diabetes

In Illinois, heart disease is the leading cause of death for people with diabetes. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than people without diabetes.

Keep your blood sugar under control.

Keeping your blood sugar under control will greatly reduce your risk for heart disease and other diabetes related complications. Many people with diabetes check their blood sugar several times a day. Knowing your blood sugar values will help you to keep good control and will provide valuable information for your physician to use in developing the best possible care plan for you.

Maintain a healthy weight.

People with diabetes are more likely to be overweight. Losing weight helps to control diabetes and reduces risk for developing heart disease and other health problems.

For a healthy diet, choose more often to consume whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats (fish, chicken, turkey) and low-fat dairy products. Choose less often foods that are fried or processed (dried, canned, frozen), and large/super size portions. Alcohol can add additional calories, which are not helpful if you are watching your weight. If you choose to drink alcohol, drink with food and limit to one drink for women and two drinks for men per day (one drink = 5 oz. wine, 1.5 oz. distilled spirits, 12 oz. beer). Work with a registered dietitian who can assist you with planning healthy meals for you and your family.

Along with making healthy food choices, daily physical activity will help you maintain a healthy weight. Your health care provider should discuss the best time of day and types of physical activity for you. You don’t need a gym or expensive equipment. A brisk walk is great!

Physical activity, preferably on most days of the week, will not only help to maintain your weight, but also will help you to achieve your target blood glucose level, to lower your blood pressure and to reduce your risk for heart disease.

Lower your cholesterol level.

When eating low-fat food choices, your body has the amount and type of fat it needs to be healthy. Eating foods that are lower in saturated cholesterol (fat that is solid at room temperature) and cholesterol (found in meat, milk, eggs) and higher in soluble fiber (apples, oat meal, natural fiber) can help you to lower your bad cholesterol (LDL). On the other hand, daily physical activity will increase the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) in your blood. Good cholesterol helps to reduce your risk for heart disease.

Talk to your health care team about having your blood cholesterol levels checked each year. If daily physical activity, healthy food choices and reaching your healthy weight doesn’t lower your blood cholesterol levels, your health care team may start you on medication.

Control your blood pressure.

People with diabetes often have high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high, choose more low-fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and foods that are lower in sodium.

Many people are able to keep their blood pressure in the target range through weight reduction, healthy food choices and regular physical activity. Some people need medication to assist with lowering blood pressure. Discuss the steps you should take to lower your blood pressure with your health care team.

Stop smoking.

If you smoke, stop right away. Smoking is bad for everyone, but even worse for people with diabetes. Smoking is harmful to your veins and arteries, which are already at risk for complications if you have diabetes. The combination of diabetes and smoking double your risk for heart disease. There are many programs and aids available to help you stop smoking. Ask your health care team for more information. There is also a free telephone hotline called the Illinois Tobacco Quitline. Call 1-866-784-8937 if you would like assistance to stop smoking.

Take low doses of aspirin.

It is recommended that low-dose aspirin be considered to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Talk to your health care provider about taking aspirin each day. Be sure to take enteric-coated aspirin to protect your stomach lining and ask your health care provider about the dose and time to take the aspirin.

Follow the ABCs of diabetes.

In summary, be smart about your heart and take control of the ABCs of diabetes. This will help you live a long and healthy life.

A is for A1C. The A1c (hemoglobin A1c) is a test that estimates your blood sugar control over the last three months. The suggested goal is below 7.

B is for blood pressure. High blood pressure makes your heart work too hard. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the National Institutes of Health recommend a target blood pressure of less than 130/80 mm Hg for people with diabetes.

C is for cholesterol. Bad cholesterol (LDL) can cause a blockage in your arteries. The suggested goal for LDL is below 100 mg/dL.

At each visit, ask your health care provider about your ABC numbers. Find out how you are doing in reaching the suggested goals or the target range set for you by your health care provider.

If your numbers miss your target, find out what you should do to reach the goal and reduce your risk of heart disease.


American Diabetes Association

American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

National Diabetes Education Program

Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control
535 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield, IL 62761
217-782-3300   TTY 800-547-0466


Warning Signs

Heart Attack
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath along with, or before, chest discomfort
  • Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

For Women

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.


  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Call 911if you have any of these symptoms or if you see someone else experiencing these warning signs. Treatment is more effective if given quickly. Every minute counts!

Who is at Risk?

Can I Reduce My Risk?


















































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