What Is Diabetic Arterial Disease?
People with diabetes are at much greater risk for heart and vascular disease compared to people who do not have diabetes.
Conditions associated with diabetic arterial disease include:
- Heart attacks
- Nonhealing wounds in the legs and feet
- High blood pressure
Causes of diabetic arterial disease
People with diabetes have too much sugar in their blood. This may change blood chemistry and cause blood vessels to narrow. Or, it can damage blood vessels — a process known as atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is also called hardening of the arteries. It results when plaque — which is made up of cholesterol and other fats, calcium, and fibrous tissue — builds up in the walls of arteries.
If enough plaque builds up to narrow or block an artery for a prolonged period, it can cause damage to tissue and organs. The health problems that result depend on the location of any narrowing or blockage.
- Narrowing or blockage of an artery that supplies blood to the heart can result in heart attack.
- Blocked carotid arteries in the neck can result in a stroke.
- Blockages in the blood vessels to the legs may lead to difficulty walking or wounds in the feet. The same circulation problems often occur in the arteries that supply the eyes and kidneys.
Diabetic arterial disease risks
Factors that can increase your risk for diabetic vascular disease include:
- How long you have had diabetes
- How well your diabetes is controlled
- If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels
- If you use tobacco
- If you do not exercise
- If you are overweight or obese
- If you eat a high-fat diet
These factors can also worsen diabetic arterial disease that already exists.
Diabetic arterial disease complications
People with diabetes are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, or experience kidney disease.
Diabetic arterial disease typically affects smaller arteries — including those that lead to the eyes, kidneys, fingers, feet, and toes — causing nerve and circulation problems. This combination can create a number of health issues, such as loss of feeling in the feet.
Because many people with diabetes develop nerve problems, they may not notice that their feet are injured, which can lead to:
- Sores (ulcers) that heal slowly or do not heal
- Tissue death (gangrene), in the worst cases, which can lead to amputation
Why choose UPMC for diabetic arterial disease care?
- Vascular surgeons at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute treat more than 1,000 people with diabetic arterial disease each year.
- We pioneered wound care in western Pennsylvania, starting the first wound clinic in the area and providing expertise in evaluating and treating diabetic foot wounds.
- Our comprehensive, team-based approach includes vascular, orthopaedic, plastic, and general surgeons — as well as podiatry and internal medicine professionals — all working together to provide an effective treatment plan that is right for you.
Learn More About Diabetic Arterial Disease
From the Society for Vascular Surgery
From our Health Library at UPMC.com: