That's because teens with Type I, or insulin-dependent, diabetes often already have more plaque buildup in their arteries than their non-diabetic peers, according to a study from the University of Southern California.
Researchers compared 57 young people between 12 and 21 years of age who had Type I diabetes with a group of people without diabetes who were of the same age and gender.In teens with diabetes, the innermost layer of the artery wall in their neck was significantly thicker than in those without diabetes, the study says. The researchers used blood tests and ultrasound to develop this measurement, called the intima-media thickness, or IMT.
They also found that those with greater IMT tended to have high levels of certain lipids in the blood: apolipoprotein B (apoB), a structural component of cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called "bad" cholesterol; and lipoprotein a (Lp a), sort of a fat cousin to LDL.
In addition, the diabetic teens had higher-than-average levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is suspected of contributing to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
They also were more likely to be male, the study says.
"The findings show that teen-agers may start to develop some of the cardiovascular risk markers early on," says study co-author Dr. Francine Kaufman, head of the division of endocrinology at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
"They are, in fact, at three to five times greater risk for both heart disease and stroke compared to the non-diabetes population," she says.
How much the teens weighed, how well they controlled their diabetes and other such factors did not make a difference in the outcome, according to the study, which was presented at a recent meeting of the American Diabetes Association.
People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or suffer a stroke than people free of diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions contribute to 75 percent of diabetes-related deaths, the association says.
What To Do
To find out more about Type I diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association online.
And to find out if you, too, are at risk for cardiovascular disease, take the quiz offered by the American Heart Association.