Diabetes Increases Heart Arrhythmias in Women


Heart conditions, such as arrhythmia, and diabetes share common risk factors, including obesity and hypertension, but Type 2 diabetes may independently increase a woman’s risk of atrial fibrillation by as much as 26%, according to new research from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon.

The research will be reported in the upcoming October issue of Diabetes Care, a journal by the American Diabetes Association.

More than 17,000 patients listed in a diabetes registry at Kaiser Permanente were studied. Diabetic patients had a significantly higher prevalence of atrial fibriallation among both men and women, however the effect in women was more pronounced.

The study was able to isolate diabetes as a risk factor from other co-morbid conditions that lead to arrhythmias, however was not able to rule out other possible factors such as socioeconomic status, education, and alcohol use.


Heart arrhythmias occur when the electrical impulses in the heart that coordinate the beats do not function properly and cause the heart to either beat too fast or too slow. Cases for disturbances in heart rhythm include scarring of the heart (as in a heart attack), heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, smoking, excessive alcohol or caffeine intake, drug abuse, stress, and certain medications.

Atrial fibrillation is a fast, irregular beating of the upper chambers of the heart, and is one of the most common arrhythmias. The increased beating of the heart causes the atria to quiver (fibrillate), which can, over time, lead to life threatening conditions such as stroke.

Diabetics are two to four times more likely to have heart disease, than those with normal blood glucose control. High blood sugar can make artery walls rough, causing plaques to build up and cause blockage. Elevated glucose levels can also make the presence of hypertension and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol) more prevalent. In addition, high levels of glucose in the blood can lead to electrolyte imbalances, such as potassium, which is used to regulate heart rate.

For both diabetics and those at risk for heart disease, preventative lifestyle measures are recommended, including the adoption of a healthy diet, increased physical activity, and improved stress management techniques.

Sources: American Diabetes Association, Mayo Clinic, and Journal of the National Medical Association