Women's Health Matters

Text Size
Jump to body content

Heart Disease

Research suggests that most women are protected from heart disease prior to menopause. However, this is not necessarily true for women with diabetes. Women with diabetes are at risk for heart disease at an earlier age than women in general.

Why are women with diabetes at risk?

Studies suggest that the hormone estrogen, produced in the ovaries, can decrease the risk of heart disease through increasing the production of HDL cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, and decreasing LDL cholesterol or the "bad" cholesterol. Estrogen also helps to relax the smooth muscle in the blood vessels and decrease thickening of the blood. At menopause, a decrease in estrogen increases the risk of heart disease. In women with diabetes, estrogen does not appear to offer this protection, regardless of age. Extensive research has not clearly identified the cause of increased heart disease risk in women with diabetes, but it is believed that high blood glucose, high levels of insulin in women with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, being over-weight and smoking are some of the factors.

What can be done to reduce the development of heart disease?

Studies suggest that the risk that women with diabetes face may be reduced through a combination of factors. These include:

  • achieving a healthy weight, especially around the waist, through healthy eating and exercise
  • lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • not smoking
  • reducing stress
  • improving blood glucose levels

All of these activities also promote better diabetes management. For more details on preventing cardiovascular disease, visit our Cardiovascular Health Centre.


Jump to top page

  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital