Diabetes Significantly Increases a Patient's Risk for Atrial Fibrillation

A new study from the Group Health Research Institute reveals that patients with diabetes are at a 40% increased risk for developing atrial fibrillation.

Scientists at the Group Health Research Institute, led by Dr. Sascha Dublin, have determined that diabetes increases a patient’s risk for developing atrial fibrillation by 40%.

Over the course of three years, Dublin and her research team tracked more than 1,400 Group Health patients who had recently been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. A control group was also established, which included more than 2,200 patients matched by age, sex, year, and whether they were treated for high blood pressure.

“Diabetes was associated with higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation,” concluded the authors in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “and risk was higher with longer duration of treated diabetes and worse glycemic control.”

In addition to the correlation between diabetes and an increased risk for developing atrial fibrillation, the researchers came to several other conclusions:

“- 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.”

Although the researchers said that it was difficult to determine which came first — diabetes or atrial fibrillation — during this type of case-control study, Dublin believes that the results will still be beneficial for physicians.

“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,” she 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.”