Women with Diabetes Are More Likely to Develop Atrial Fibrillation

October 26, 2009

A recent study from Kaiser Permanente shows that women with diabetes face a 26% greater risk of also developing atrial fibrillation.

According to a news release from Kaiser Permanente, results from a study that followed nearly 35,000 patients for seven years show that women with diabetes face a 26% greater risk of also developing atrial fibrillation (AF).

Greg Nichols, PhD, investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, said that although men with diabetes also face a higher risk of developing AF, the association between diabetes and AF is not as strong in men. For men, "obesity and high blood pressure are bigger risk factors than diabetes," said Nichols.

Sumeet Chugh, MD, co-author of the study and associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles said that the study results mean that "gender differences need to be looked at more closely because they could have significant implications for how we treat diabetes in men and women."

The study results were published in the October issue of Diabetes Care. For the study, the authors selected "10,213 members of an HMO diabetes registry as of 1 January 1999 plus 7,159 patients who entered the registry by 31 December 2004," plus a cohort of patients without diabetes, matched for age and sex. The authors "compared the baseline prevalence of atrial fibrillation and then followed patients without atrial fibrillation to compare atrial fibrillation incidence while controlling for known risk factors."

The authors reported that AF prevalence was "significantly greater among patients with diabetes" (3.6% of diabetic patients had AF at baseline, vs. 2.5% of non-diabetic patients). During follow-up (average of 7.2 years), diabetic patients without AF at baseline developed AF at an age- and sex-adjusted rate of 9.1 per 1,000 person-years, compared with a rate of 6.6 per 1,000 person-years among non-diabetic patients. After adjusting for age, obesity, and other risk factors, the authors found that "diabetes was associated with a 26% increased risk of atrial fibrillation among women" but was "not a statistically significant factor among men."

They concluded that, "in this population, diabetes was an independent determinant of atrial fibrillation prevalence but predicted incidence only among women. These findings have potential public health implications and emphasize the need for further investigation of the mechanistic links between diabetes and atrial fibrillation."