The saying "what you don't know can't hurt you" should never apply when talking about your health. For people with type 2 diabetes, learning about heart disease risks can be lifesaving.

When we think about heart attacks, we tend to imagine a man falling to the floor holding his hand to his chest. Generally, women are not as concerned about their hearts, and often mistakenly believe they are more likely to die from a disease like cancer. Yet the reality is that heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of premature death among Canadian women.

Understand the risks

The term heart disease generally describes a heart that does not function properly. Specifically, it describes instances of heart failure or stroke due to a blockage developing in the arteries. The most well-known risk factors are smoking and high cholesterol levels, but other factors — including living with diabetes — play a determining role.

The reality is that heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of premature death among Canadian women. 

Nevertheless, research shows that 93% of Canadians who have type 2 diabetes believe they know how to manage their illness, when in reality one out of two are unaware that their diabetes increases the risk of heart disease or stroke. "The link between type 2 diabetes and heart disease is very strong," explains Dr. Shelley Zieroth, a cardiologist at St. Boniface Hospital in Manitoba. According to her, 80% of Canadians with diabetes will die of coronary disease — an astounding number.

A lack of knowledge about the symptoms associated with heart disease can increase the risk of mortality. The most obvious warning sign is pressure or tightness in the chest during physical exertion, but other warning signs include feeling short of breath and experiencing fatigue, nausea, or dizziness, as well as jaw or back pain. Symptoms tend to be more subtle for women, who may feel chest discomfort rather than crushing pain.

Start a conversation

As a cardiologist, Dr. Zieroth is enthusiastic about being involved with her patients who are managing their diabetes. In addition to knowing the risks of heart disease, people with diabetes can take steps to prevent it. Dr. Zieroth says patients with diabetes should closely monitor their blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating smaller portions, is just as crucial. "But above all, we want patients to speak with their doctor because the good news is that there are new treatments that can prevent premature death for people with diabetes," she says.

Clinical trials have shown that these new treatments not only prevent deaths related to heart disease but also prevent the onset of heart failure. A discussion with one's medical team is the best way for people living with diabetes to make sure they have all the information required to keep living a healthy life.


If you are living with type 2 diabetes, My Heart Matters can help you start the discussion with your doctor about ways to minimize your risk of developing heart disease.


This article was brought to you by two of Canada's leading research-based pharmaceutical companies.