10/07/2009 - Articles

Diabetes increases risk of atrial fibrillation in women

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Diabetes is associated with many complications, such as eye disease, impaired circulation and heart problems.  Now a new study shows diabetes is also linked with atrial fibrillation (AF), at least in women. 

In AF, the upper chambers of the heart – the atria – beat out of sync, causing blood to pool and maybe form clots that could lead to a stroke.  Previous studies have linked diabetes with an increased risk of AF – but the new research, carried out by Kaiser Permanente and the Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Health System, Los Angeles, is the largest of its kind.

A group of nearly 20,000 patients with diabetes was compared with a similar group without diabetes.  The former group was drawn from Kaiser Permanente’s diabetes registry in Oregon and Washington and the latter from the organisation’s HealthConnect® which is the world’s largest civilian electronic health records database. At the start, 3.6% of those in the diabetes group had AF compared to 2.5% of those without diabetes – a difference of 44%. Over seven years of follow up, on average, the rate of developing AF was 9.1 cases per 1,000 person years among the people with diabetes and 6.6 cases per 1,000 years among those without diabetes. 

After adjustment for various risk factors, the link between diabetes and AF was found to be significant only among women and not for men. The mechanism by which diabetes increases AF risk is not clear and ought to be investigated further. Meanwhile, those who do have diabetes should be monitored closely for early signs of AF.


Nichols G, Reinier K, Chugh S Independent contribution of diabetes to increased prevalence and incidence of atrial fibrillation Diabetes Care October 2009


Created on: 10/07/2009
Reviewed on: 10/07/2009

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