Doctors have known for years that people with diabetes are at higher risk of sudden death, but now research has suggested that, years before developing diabetes, people who have what is known as ‘insulin resistance’ can be more likely to develop abnormal heart rhythms.
Using data from 1,448 people aged 60-64, researchers at University College London found an association between signs of insulin resistance and markers that indicate an increased risk of developing dangerous arrhythmias, a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat.
These arrhythmias may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, where the heart suddenly stops beating. The research, presented at a British Cardiovascular Society conference this month, was funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Arrhythmias can increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, where the heart suddenly stops beating. Insulin resistance often has no symptoms, so people may be unaware they have developed it.
It develops when cells in your muscles, fat and liver don’t respond well to insulin. This affects how they’re able to take up glucose (sugar) from the blood, meaning levels of glucose in the blood remain too high, forcing the pancreas to work extra hard to keep levels down.
This is the largest study to date to show that people with insulin resistance, who are otherwise apparently healthy, may be at higher risk of developing dangerous arrhythmias, and therefore sudden death, warned the BHF.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, BHF associate medical director and cardiologist, said: “Understanding the link between insulin resistance and heart rhythm disturbances is particularly important as insulin resistance can be diagnosed, prevented and potentially reversed.
“However, many people won’t know that they have insulin resistance until it has developed into diabetes. We need to make it easier for people to maintain a healthy diet, weight and to get more exercise to reduce their risk of developing it.”
Separately, a study being led by the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford is researching whether a daily tablet could help protect the millions of people worldwide with type 2 diabetes from developing cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease causes about 18 million deaths worldwide each year. People with diabetes are especially vulnerable, since the condition roughly doubles the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The latest study, funded by the Danish healthcare company Novo Nordisk, will test whether taking a daily tablet that contains semaglutide can protect people with type 2 diabetes from suffering heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events.