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Atrial Fibrillation more Common with Uncontrolled Diabetes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A common type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation has been found to be more common among patients with uncontrolled diabetes. For diabetics the risk of developing atrial fibrillation was forty percent higher compared to a control group in a study from Group Health Research Institute.

The study, led by Dr. Sascha Dublin followed more than 1400 patients who were part of the Group Health study, finding that higher blood sugar levels and years diagnosed with diabetes both raise the risk of atrial fibrillation.

Compared to individuals with normal blood sugar levels, atrial fibrillation was forty percent more likely to occur in diabetics. There was a three percent increase in the risk with each year of age.

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Diabetics whose HgA1C levels were well controlled (less than 7.0) had no more risk of atrial fibrillation than those without diabetes.

“When a patient with diabetes has symptoms like heart palpitations, clinicians should have a higher level of suspicion that the reason could be atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Dublin said. “This heart rhythm disturbance is important to diagnose, because it can be treated with medications like warfarin that can prevent many of the strokes that the atrial fibrillation would otherwise cause.”

Atrial fibrillation also boosts risk of stroke and death from pooling of blood that can lead to clots in the upper heart chambers (atria). When the heart beats out of rhythm, blood flow becomes limited, setting individuals up for stroke and death when clots break away from the atria and block blood flow to the brain.

Diabetics can protect from atrial fibrillation by keeping blood glucose levels under control, based on the study findings. The study shows that the risk of atrial fibrillation was greater for patients with higher blood sugar levels and also linked to increased years since diagnosis of diabetes.

Group Health