Abnormal Heart Rhythm Risk Increases with Diabetes and Diabetes Medications

A Seattle-based study has found that people with diabetes run a 40 percent increased risk of developing a common type of abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation*. The study also shows that as people with diabetes take drugs for the disease, their risk for developing atrial fibrillation increases three percent for each year that they use such medications.

Researchers at Group Health Cooperative, a large Seattle-based non-profit healthcare delivery system, tracked data on 3,613 of its members-1,410 who had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and 2,203 without the condition. Eighteen percent of the people with atrial fibrillation were also taking diabetes medications, versus 14 percent who had diabetes but no atrial fibrillation. The difference indicated to the researchers that people with diabetes carry a 40 percent greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation than people who do not have the disease.

The researchers also found a link between the risk for atrial fibrillation and A1c level. People with A1c levels of 7% or less (the ADA-recommended figure) ran a 6 percent greater risk of developing the heart condition than people without diabetes. At A1c levels between 7% and 9%, the risk was 50 percent greater, and at levels above 9%, the risk was almost double.

The research team recommended that doctors be made aware of the link between diabetes and atrial fibrillation. The most common way to treat atrial fibrillation is the prescription of blood thinners to thwart possible stroke.

*In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper chambers-the atria-beat irregularly and rapidly because of chaotic generation of the electrical signals that control the heart’s beating. The condition puts the atria out of coordination with the two lower chambers, the ventricles, and often results in shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or feelings of weakness. Atrial fibrillation, which can be chronic or intermittent, is often bought on by heart disease or high blood pressure-the latter a condition frequently associated with diabetes. Atrial fibrillation is not itself considered life-threatening, but it does require medical attention because it is often a precursor to stroke. Therapies for addressing atrial fibrillation include medications or surgical interventions designed to restore order to the heart’s electrical system.

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