The current study culled data from more than 10,000 members of an HMO diabetes registry who had type 2 diabetes, and then matched them by age and sex to more than 7,000 people without diabetes. The study period was January 1999 through December 2008.
Over an average follow-up time of about seven years, people with type 2 diabetes developed 9.1 cases of atrial fibrillation per 1,000 person-years, according to the study. During the same period, there were 6.6 cases (per 1,000 person-years) of atrial fibrillation in people without diabetes.
When the researchers adjusted the data to account for other factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure, they found that the increased risk of atrial fibrillation in people with type 2 diabetes only remained for women.
Nichols said that this information is important for doctors to know because they might not always look for atrial fibrillation in women.
But, he added, in this study, "among women, diabetes was a stronger predictor of atrial fibrillation than obesity and elevated blood pressure."
Weintraub pointed out that this study didn't include comparisons of echocardiograms (an imaging test of the heart), which would have allowed researchers to assess heart health at the start of the study, and ensure that no one with preexisting, but undiagnosed, heart disease was included. Additionally, the researchers didn't look to see if blood sugar control made a difference in the rates of atrial fibrillation.
"Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which heart disease risk factors cluster," said Weintraub. He added that one important take-away message from this study is to try to aggressively control your weight and blood pressure levels, particularly if you have diabetes, because it increases your risk of atrial fibrillation and other forms of heart disease.
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