This review discusses some of the mechanisms inherent in diabetes that predispose patients to increased cardiac morbidity and mortality. Single photon emission computerized tomography or photon emission tomography with radioactive labeled analogues of norepinephrine have shown that cardiac sympathetic dysfunction and incompetence are early and also late abnormalities in patients with Type I (insulin-dependent) and Type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus. Furthermore, myocardial blood flow assessment with photon emission tomography has shown that in patients without myocardial perfusion deficits, endothelial-dependent vasodilatation is severely reduced in relation to cardiac sympathetic dysfunction. In addition, signs of endothelial activation have also been found early in patients with Type I and Type II diabetes in whom vascular disease has not been clinically detected. This activation in conjunction with glycaemic control is important in determining macrovascular mortality. Cardiac sympathetic dysfunction is partially restored to normal with near normalisation of glycaemia.
Interpretations: Recently unrecognized "subtle" changes predispose the heart to failure, after ischaemia-induced remodelling, and arteriosclerotic plaques to instability and rupture. These changes act in conjunction with effects, driven by hyperglycaemia and diabetes, on the endothelium of large blood vessels, e.g. on nitric oxide release or on protein kinase-C beta activation. Meticulous glucose control early on and rapid recompensation of hyperglycaemia in patients with acute coronary syndrome are part of a successful intensive multifactorial approach to prevent the heart in diabetes converting from ailing to failing.