Analysis carried out by the British Heart Foundation has highlighted the connection between diabetes and conditions that affect the heart and circulatory system.

All organs in the body require a properly functioning heart and circulatory system so that blood can efficiently carry oxygen and nutrients to the whole body and remove waste products. People with diabetes are unable to control the amount of insulin in their bodies properly. Insulin regulates the movement of glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. If the body does not have access to sufficient insulin, the levels of glucose in the bloodstream will become too high.

In type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to make insulin, whereas in type 2 diabetes, (the most common form), either the body does not produce sufficient insulin or it becomes resistant to insulin. Type 2 diabetes tends to develop gradually and is closely linked with being physically inactive, being overweight (particularly if the extra weight is carried around the middle of the body), and a family history of type 2 diabetes.

The elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream can cause damage to the blood vessels, which in turn can cause heart and circulatory diseases such as stroke, coronary heart disease, peripheral atrial disease, deep vein thrombosis and vascular dementia. An individual with diabetes is two to three times more likely to develop heart and circulatory conditions.

Professor Mark Kearney, writing on the British Heart Foundation’s website, notes that diabetes is ‘a magnet for other risk factors’. Many conditions are interconnected. For example, high blood pressure and diabetes are both risk factors for coronary stroke, heart disease and vascular dementia. Atherosclerosis (where the arteries harden) occurs earlier and more severely in those who have diabetes and can lead to stroke, heart attack and, in some cases, limb amputation.

According to figures produced by Public Health England, 3.8 million people were living with diabetes in 2015 and 90% of these suffered from type 2 diabetes. These figures are expected to rise to 4.9 million by 2035.

The British Heart Foundation has predicted that, given the link between diabetes and heart and circulatory problems, the projected increase in diabetes could ‘trigger a sharp increase in... heart and circulatory problems’ in the next 20 years.

Chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, Simon Gillespie, stated: “We can only reverse this trend by taking bold action to tackle obesity and inactivity, especially amongst young people”. He also called for improved management of those who have been diagnosed with diabetes in order to lower the risk of stroke or heart attack; and further research to improve the understanding of the connection between heart and circulatory diseases and diabetes to develop new treatments.