A large Kaiser Permanente study, published this month in Diabetes Care, has found that women with diabetes are 26 percent more likely to develop the very rapid and irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation (AF) than women without diabetes. Although not a killer on its own, AF is a serious condition that requires medical treatment and can cause complications. In addition to fatigue, the poor circulation that results from AF can lead to blood pooling and clotting, ultimately causing a stroke.
The seven-year Kaiser Permanente study used an unprecedented number of patients (almost 35,000 patients, half with diabetes and half without) and was controlled for factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and age. The researchers found that although men with diabetes are also at higher risk of AF than those without diabetes, the link between AF and diabetes is not as profound as it is in women. The study’s lead investigator, Greg Nichols, PhD, said in a press release that “obesity and high blood pressure are still the bigger risk factors for men with diabetes.”
Nearly 2.2 million people in the United States have AF, and many more go undiagnosed. The study authors pointed out that given the prevalence of AF and the rising numbers of people with diabetes, close attention should be paid to the link between the two conditions, especially in women. If more studies demonstrate a gender difference in the disease, perhaps one day men and women with diabetes will be treated differently by healthcare providers.
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