Coronary atherosclerosis in diabetes mellitus: a population-based autopsy study

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2002 Sep 4;40(5):946-53. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(02)02065-x.


Objectives: The study was conducted to test the hypothesis that the prevalence of coronary atherosclerosis is greater among diabetic than among nondiabetic individuals and is similar for diabetic individuals without clinical coronary artery disease (CAD) and nondiabetics with clinical CAD.

Background: Persons with diabetes but without clinical CAD encounter cardiovascular mortality similar to nondiabetic individuals with clinical CAD. This excess mortality is not fully explained. We examined the association between diabetes and coronary atherosclerosis in a geographically defined autopsied population, while capitalizing on the autopsy rate and medical record linkage system available via the Rochester Epidemiology Project, which allows rigorous ascertainment of coronary atherosclerosis, clinical CAD, and diabetes.

Methods: Using two measures, namely a global coronary score and high-grade stenoses, the prevalence of atherosclerosis was analyzed in a cohort of autopsied residents of Rochester, Minnesota, age 30 years or older at death, while stratifying on diabetes, clinical CAD diagnosis, age, and gender.

Results: In this cohort, diabetes was associated with a higher prevalence of atherosclerosis. Among diabetic decedents without clinical CAD, almost three-fourths had high-grade coronary atherosclerosis and more than half had multivessel disease. Without diabetes, women had less atherosclerosis than men, but this female advantage was lost with diabetes. Among those without clinical CAD, diabetes was associated with a global coronary disease burden and a prevalence of high-grade atherosclerosis similar to that observed among nondiabetic subjects with clinical CAD.

Conclusions: These findings provide mechanistic insights into the excess risk of clinical CAD among diabetic individuals, thereby supporting the need for aggressive prevention of atherosclerosis in all diabetic individuals, irrespective of clinical CAD symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Coronary Artery Disease / epidemiology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / etiology*
  • Diabetes Complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence