Key Takeaways

  1. Diabetes can lead to various complications, including cardiovascular conditions affecting the heart, which pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood daily.
  2. Diabetes mellitus is characterized by prolonged high blood sugar levels. It has two main types: Type 1 (due to lack of insulin-producing B-cells) and Type 2 (caused by insulin resistance and typically linked to lifestyle factors).
  3. With around 415 million people affected globally, diabetes increases the risk of several diseases, including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and nerve damage. One cardiovascular condition linked to diabetes is arrhythmias.
  4. Arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats, which can be too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia). Prolonged arrhythmias can lead to heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.
  5. The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, affecting over 2.5 million people in the U.S. About 15% of individuals with diabetes have this condition.
  6. These irregular heartbeats can result from various conditions, including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and notably, diabetes. Prolonged high blood sugar levels can increase the chances of arrhythmia.
  7. Signs include drowsiness, dizziness, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, fainting, sweating, irregular heart rate, and chest pain.
  8. Managing blood sugar levels is crucial. Drugs like sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, such as dapagliflozin, can reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation. Lifestyle changes, like a healthy diet, regular exercise, and weight management, also play a significant role.
  9. Addressing underlying conditions like obesity and thyroid issues is essential. Medications, procedures like electrical cardioversion, and surgeries can also be employed based on the type of arrhythmia.
  10. Managing diabetes and blood sugar control is vital to reduce the risk of heart arrhythmias and other complications. Combining medication with lifestyle changes can help maintain heart health and overall well-being.

Diabetes is a serious disease leading to many long-term complications, including issues related to the kidneys, nerves, eyes, heart, gums, and feet. With regards to the heart, diabetes can induce several cardiovascular conditions that can be detrimental to your health. The heart is of course an essential organ, pumping blood and bringing oxygen to various parts of the body. In fact, the heart pumps roughly 2,000 gallons of blood daily, with the heart beating over 2.5 billion times over the course of an average lifetime. Given its profound role in the body, it is important to keep the heart healthy.

In executing its functions, the heart maintains the speed of your heart rate (heart rhythm) and blood pressure. Unfortunately, uncontrolled diabetes can have damaging effects on these processes, leading to things like heart arrhythmias. This article will discuss what heart arrhythmias are, the intimate link between diabetes and heart arrhythmias, and how you can prevent these abnormal rhythms for better health.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is defined as diabetes that is the result of a lack of insulin-producing B-cells in the pancreas. Without these cells, the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin. Type 1 diabetes starts in childhood and is not preventable.

Type 2 diabetes is what most people think of when they think of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance and the body’s diminished ability to respond to insulin. It typically starts in adulthood as a result of genetics and lifestyle factors such as poor diet, being overweight or obese, and lack of exercise.

What are the risks associated with diabetes?

Diabetes is on the rise, with roughly 415 million people worldwide suffering from the condition. This is concerning, as there are several risks associated with diabetes, particularly uncontrolled diabetes. By having high glucose levels for extended periods of time, you are susceptible to a number of other diseases that are both dangerous and life-threatening. These risks include conditions such as kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, eye problems, and other issues related to hearing, feet, and mental health. One such cardiovascular condition that is caused by diabetes includes arrhythmias.

What are heart arrhythmias?

Arrhythmias are defined as irregular heartbeats, meaning that your heart beats at an abnormal rhythm. For example, it may beat irregularly, too fast (tachycardia), or too slow (bradycardia). This is not to be confused with normal changes to heartbeat that can occur throughout your day. For example, if you engage in exercise, your heart rate will go up. If you are sleeping, your heart rate will go down. These scenarios are completely normal.

Changes to heart rate become concerning when they are irregular and abnormal for a prolonged period of time. In these instances, your heart does not pump sufficient blood to other parts of the body. Arrhythmia for extended periods can increase your risk of things like heart failure, heart attack, and stroke.

There are several different types of arrhythmias. Atrial fibrillation, though, is the most common one. In the United States alone, greater than 2.5 million people have atrial fibrillation. This disorder makes your heart beat more than 400 times each minute. In addition, certain heart chambers cannot fill up enough with blood, reducing the amount of blood pumped to different parts of the body. Roughly 15 percent of individuals with diabetes have atrial fibrillation, while 30 percent of atrial fibrillation incidences happen in diabetic individuals.

What causes heart arrhythmias?

Arrhythmias happen because of an issue with electrical conduction in the heart. They can be caused by several conditions, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Damage from a heart attack
  • Issues with your heart muscle
  • Diabetes

Thankfully, some of these conditions are preventable, meaning that you can lower our risk of arrhythmia. For example, diabetes is characterized by prolonged periods of high blood sugar. Increased blood sugar for a long time can increase your chances of arrhythmia. Therefore, if you manage both your diabetes and blood sugar levels, you can significantly lower your chance of developing cardiovascular problems like abnormal heartbeat.

How are heart arrhythmias related to diabetes?

As aforementioned, blood glucose levels can affect certain aspects of your heart, including how it beats. One analysis surveyed several clinical trials assessing this relationship. It found that there was a dose-dependent correlation between blood glucose levels and atrial fibrillation. This means that increased blood sugar levels can cause the onset of atrial fibrillation. Other studies have found more inconclusive results. Therefore, experts postulate that glucose fluctuations, rather than just high glucose, can increase arrhythmia risk. Either way, blood sugar is an important component to managing diabetes and lowering cardiovascular risk. Other hypotheses explain that other things like the autonomic nervous system, molecular alterations, and structural changes in diabetes contribute to arrhythmia.

What are the symptoms of an arrhythmia?

If you have diabetes, it is important to be aware of what conditions you are at increased risk for and their symptoms. This will help you to identify certain conditions early, so that you can properly intervene and treat. The signs of an arrhythmia include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting for feeling faint
  • Sweating
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Chest pain

If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. They can run certain tests to evaluate your heart.

How do you prevent arrhythmias?

As we now know, blood sugar levels and diabetes are correlated with increased risk of developing arrhythmias. Thus, managing your blood sugar levels is an essential part of preventing arrhythmias, which can be done with diabetes medications. One drug class in particular known as sodium-glucose contransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors have demonstrated efficacy in reducing this risk. In one study, dapagliflozin, an SGLT2 inhibitor, lowered risk of atrial fibrillation by as much as 19 percent. In addition, other cardiovascular events, such as death and heart failure hospitalization, was also lowered by 17 percent. Thus, SGLT2 can provide a cardioprotective effect for diabetes patients.

There are also lifestyle changes that you can implement to lower your overall risk for cardiovascular diseases. These include:

  • Eating a healthy diet. Incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins as possible. Avoid processed foods, foods high in sugar, and trans fat. Additionally, drink more water.
  • Exercise regularly. Getting active increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin, a hormone that is essential to regulating blood sugar levels. It also helps manage blood sugar and decreases your chances of heart disease. Try to engage in moderate-intensity physical activity daily.
  • Maintain a proper weight. Losing even a bit of weight can have profound effects, including positive influences on your blood sugar levels. Strive for at least modest weight loss, which would be five to seven percent of your body weight, which is only 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound individual.
  • Get your labs in check. In particular, focus on maintaining a normal A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol level.

How do you treat arrhythmias?

If your arrhythmia is the result of diabetes, your treatment regimen would implement many of the lifestyle changes mentioned above for prevention. Things like keeping a healthy weight, exercising, eating a healthy diet, managing stress, and stopping smoking can support your heart health. Additionally, treating your diabetes and underlying conditions is also essential. Things such as obesity, thyroid issues, and sleep apnea should all be addressed and adequately managed.

There are also medications available to treat arrhythmias, depending on the type you have. In atrial fibrillation, for example, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and blood thinners can help. Additionally, procedures like electrical cardioversion, catheter ablation, pacemakers, and certain surgeries can help.

If you are experiencing heart arrhythmias, talk to your doctor about how to best manage it. Treating things like atrial fibrillation are essential to preventing downstream cardiovascular events and continuing to live a healthy happy life.

Conclusion

In summary, diabetes is a complex condition involving abnormal blood sugar levels. Diabetes can ultimately lead to a multitude of negative downstream effects, one being cardiovascular events. Heart arrhythmias are particularly concerning, and these can manifest as a fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat. Given that the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body and sustaining life, changes to your heartbeat can be detrimental over time.

The mainstay of treating heart arrhythmias related to diabetes is to manage your diabetes. Blood sugar control is paramount, and a combination of medication and lifestyle changes can help to keep your glucose levels in check. Doing such will lower your risk of arrhythmia in addition to the numerous other benefits.