Diabetes mellitus is a comprehensive expression to identify a condition of chronic hyperglycemia whose causes derive from different metabolic disorders characterized by altered insulin secretion or faulty insulin effect on its targets or often both mechanisms. Diabetes and atherosclerosis are, from the point of view of cardio- and cerebrovascular risk, two complementary diseases. Beyond shared aspects such as inflammation and oxidative stress, there are multiple molecular mechanisms by which they feed off each other: chronic hyperglycemia and advanced glycosylation end-products (AGE) promote 'accelerated atherosclerosis' through the induction of endothelial damage and cellular dysfunction. These diseases impact the vascular system and, therefore, the risk of developing cardio- and cerebrovascular events is now evident, but the observation of this significant correlation has its roots in past decades. Cerebrovascular complications make diabetic patients 2-6 times more susceptible to a stroke event and this risk is magnified in younger individuals and in patients with hypertension and complications in other vascular beds. In addition, when patients with diabetes and hyperglycemia experience an acute ischemic stroke, they are more likely to die or be severely disabled and less likely to benefit from the one FDA-approved therapy, intravenous tissue plasminogen activator. Experimental stroke models have revealed that chronic hyperglycemia leads to deficits in cerebrovascular structure and function that may explain some of the clinical observations. Increased edema, neovascularization, and protease expression as well as altered vascular reactivity and tone may be involved and point to potential therapeutic targets. Further study is needed to fully understand this complex disease state and the breadth of its manifestation in the cerebrovasculature.
Keywords: atherosclerosis; cerebrovascular disease; diabetes; stroke.