Diabetes can be a risk factor for other health conditions like heart and kidney disease. Effective diabetes management is one way to lower your personal risk and help maintain overall good health.

Heart valve disease, which can affect blood flow to the heart, can occur more commonly in people with diabetes. The condition can also progress faster and be more severe in those who have diabetes.

The exact reason for the connection is still being studied, but researchers are exploring some common mechanisms between diabetes and damage to heart valves.

If you’re living with diabetes, collaborating with your doctor can be a great way to support your heart health and lower your risk of other serious health conditions.

People with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease as those without diabetes. They’re also, on average, more likely to develop heart disease at a younger age.

Heart disease is a group of conditions that affect heart health. Coronary artery disease is one of the most common conditions in people with or without diabetes. It’s when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The pathways become narrow, leading to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

People with diabetes often have risk factors for heart disease, including:

  • damage to the heart’s blood vessels and nerves from high blood sugar
  • high blood pressure which forces blood through arteries
  • high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol which forms plaque in arteries
  • high triglycerides, a type of fat, and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol

Diabetes can also affect your heart valve health, specifically by contributing to heart valve disease.

The valves of the heart regulate blood flow to and from the heart and also inside it.

When any of these valves are damaged, it’s a form of heart valve disease. The valves may not fully open or close during a heartbeat, or may leak. A valve opening may be narrow or stiff, so it can’t fully open. This is a condition called stenosis.

Heart valve disease is most common in the aortic valve, although it may occur in any of the heart’s valves. High blood pressure and atherosclerosis are two risk factors for heart valve disease.

Researchers are still actively looking at a possible link between diabetes and heart valve disease. There’s a growing body of evidence that the two conditions are connected.

Specifically, diabetes may predict aortic valve stenosis, and this stenosis may be more severe in people with diabetes.

A 2019 paper cited research that found the prevalence of diabetes was higher among those with aortic stenosis than in the general population. The same paper also noted research that diabetes creates and worsens pro-inflammatory factors that also affect the aortic valve.

A study published in 2022 found diabetes was associated with rapid progression of aortic stenosis. The research was based on an analysis of 276 people with aortic stenosis between 2016 and 2021.

There may also be a connection between diabetes and degeneration of the aortic heart valve. A 2018 study found that there’s an increase in a certain protein when aortic valves degenerate. In late-stage valve deterioration, diabetes increases the amount of this protein.

Living with diabetes and heart disease can also raise the risk of other conditions, such as chronic kidney disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 3 adults with diabetes has kidney disease.

Some of the same causes that lead to an increased risk for heart valve disease also raise the risk of kidney disease.

Specifically, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels not just in the heart but in the kidneys. High blood pressure can put extra strain on these weakened blood vessels from the additional force as blood moves through.

People with diabetes may also carry a greater risk of stroke because of the risk factors for heart disease.

If you live with diabetes, there are many ways you can manage your risk for heart disease. Working with your doctor, you can develop a plan to support your overall health and manage your diabetes.

You may wish to talk with your doctor about screening for heart disease risk. Your doctor may recommend:

  • monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • testing your heart health through a treadmill stress test, echocardiogram, or electrocardiogram
  • adopting a balanced diet
  • exercising
  • reducing stress
  • taking medication

Living with a health condition like diabetes can sometimes feel overwhelming. Fortunately, you can often take steps to reduce your risk for other conditions.

Researchers are working to uncover the link between heart valve disease and diabetes. Damage to the heart valves can affect blood flow to the heart, a progression that can happen more quickly in people with diabetes.

If you live with diabetes, your doctor can help you create a plan for heart disease monitoring, balanced eating, and exercise that can help reduce your risk.