Research associates diabetes with atrial fibrillation

February 13, 2016

Patients with diabetes were 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation than were people without diabetes. The risk of atrial fibrillation rose by 3 percent for each additional year that patients had diabetes. For patients with high blood sugar (glycosylated hemoglobin, also known as HBA1c more than 9 percent), the risk of atrial fibrillation was twice that for people without diabetes. But patients with well-controlled diabetes (HBA1c 7 percent or less) were about equally likely to have atrial fibrillation as people 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."

It is hard to establish which comes first-diabetes or atrial fibrillation-with this kind of case-control study, unlike a randomized trial, Dr. Dublin said. "But our finding that the risk of atrial fibrillation is higher with longer time since patients started medications for diabetes, and with higher blood glucose levels, is strongly suggestive that diabetes can cause atrial fibrillation." She used time since starting diabetes medication as a measure of how long patients had the disease.

Source: Group Health Research Institute