Don’t wait for chest pain. Heart attack symptoms when you have diabetes are more likely to include fatigue and trouble breathing. Learn which signs to watch for.
Diabetes, a chronic disease, occurs when your body cannot make enough of the hormone insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. This results in dangerously abnormal blood sugar levels, which can damage your nerves, kidneys, blood vessels, and heart.
Because of the damage that diabetes causes to your cardiovascular system, people with diabetes are at a high risk for heart attacks.
Diabetes and heart attack risk
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 70 percent of people over age 65 who have diabetes will die from some type of heart disease. This risk is even higher for women. Women with diabetes have a 40 percent higher risk of suffering from heart disease than men with diabetes do.
To prevent a heart attack from becoming fatal, it is important to know the warning signs and quickly seek medical attention when you notice symptoms.
Heart attack symptoms when you have diabetes
Many people who have a heart attack experience a sharp, heavy, or crushing pain in the chest. However, researchers have found that many diabetics do not realize they are having a heart attack because they do not think the pain they feel is severe enough. This causes delays in seeking medical help and can result in a heart attack becoming fatal.
Diabetes damages the nerves in your body, a condition known as diabetic neuropathy. This includes the nerves that send pain signals to your brain. As a result, the pain you feel during a heart attack when you have diabetes might be far less intense than you expect. Diabetics are more likely to experience pressure or discomfort, rather than more severe chest pain.
Instead of only watching for chest pain, people with diabetes should pay attention to other signs of a heart attack.
Heart attack symptoms when you have diabetes include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden, extreme fatigue, or weakness
- Pressure or discomfort in the chest
- Dull pain or discomfort in the arms, jaw, neck, shoulders, or upper back
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling light-headed, sweaty, or faint
If you experience these symptoms and think you are having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately.
Silent heart attacks
Diabetic neuropathy can also cause some people with diabetes to experience what is known as a “silent” heart attack, or a heart attack with no symptoms at all. These heart attacks can be fatal, or they may make you more likely to have a fatal heart attack later on.
Because of the risk of silent heart attack, it is important to see your doctor regularly if you have diabetes. Regular medical care and screening can help catch any developing heart problems and treat them before they cause a heart attack.
How to prevent a heart attack if you have diabetes
If you have diabetes, you can take steps to limit your risk of having a heart attack.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Monitor and control your blood sugar
- Eat a healthy diet
- Take any medication prescribed by your doctor
- Stay active and get plenty of exercise
- Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Avoid smoking and heavy alcohol consumption
These steps will reduce the likelihood that you will suffer from a heart attack. However, diabetes still puts you at risk, even if you live an otherwise healthy lifestyle.
To manage both your diabetes and your risk of heart disease, see your doctor regularly and talk about any new or unexpected symptoms you are experiencing.
February 15, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN