If you have diabetes, you know there are ways to take control of the condition and improve your well-being. One important step is to keep tabs on your heart health. Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you have high cholesterol along with your diabetes, the combination can be dangerous. Find out why managing both conditions can be vital to your health and longevity. Diabetes and Heart Disease Heart disease and stroke are the number one cause of death and disability among people with type 2 diabetes. In fact, if you have diabetes, you have the same risk for heart disease and stroke as a person who already has cardiovascular disease. Thankfully, diabetes is a controllable risk factor for cardiovascular disease. By working closely with your doctor to manage your diabetes, you can reduce your risk for heart problems. The Cholesterol Link One way to prevent heart-related problems is to focus on cholesterol levels. People with diabetes often have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol. LDL is a waxy substance that joins with other material in the blood to form plaque. Plaque slowly builds up and hardens in the arteries. This plaque buildup can lead to heart attack and stroke. People with diabetes have excess sugar in their blood. Experts believe this excess sugar can eventually contribute to plaque formation in the arteries. Diabetes also tends to lower your levels of high density lipoproteins (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Taking Control To protect yourself from heart disease and stroke, keep your blood sugar under control. Also, work with your doctor to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Because of your heightened risk for heart disease, your doctor may want your LDL cholesterol to be below 70 mg/dL. This is especially true if you have additional risk factors for heart disease. You can lower your LDL by eating a heart-healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. Your doctor may also prescribe medications that can help. The good news is that by playing an active role in your care, and taking steps to reduce your cholesterol levels, you can greatly reduce your chance for heart attack and stroke. In fact, experts estimate that a person with diabetes who lowers his or her LDL cholesterol can reduce cardiovascular complications by up to 50 percent. Remember, you aren’t alone. Millions of people with diabetes are taking the same steps to reduce their cholesterol levels and boost their overall health. Your doctor is there to help you get started. Key Takeaways Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you also have high cholesterol, the combination can be dangerous. If you have diabetes, you have excess sugar in your blood. This can cause plaque buildup in your arteries. Diabetes tends to lower your levels of HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Because of your heightened risk, your doctor may want your LDL cholesterol to be below 70 mg/dL.