A higher body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account) and a greater waist circumference both increase the risk for atrial fibrillation, but to different degrees in men and women, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is a type of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that often occurs with a rapid heart rate, in which the heart’s upper chambers (atria) beat chaotically. It’s estimated to affect between 2.7 and 6.1 million people in the United States, and people with diabetes are at increased risk for the condition. If left untreated, Afib can lead to blood clots in the heart, which may circulate through the bloodstream and block the flow of blood to other organs — potentially leading to a stroke or other forms of ischemia (blocked blood flow).
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BMI, waist circumference both tied to Afib risk
For the latest study, researchers looked at data from about 2.1 million adults who attended cardiovascular screening clinics between 2008 and 2013. Out of these participants, 12,067, or 0.6%, were found to have Afib. Among participants with data on BMI or waist circumference, the researchers found that for every BMI increase of 5 units (kilograms per meter squared), the risk for Afib was 1.65 times as high for men and 1.36 times as high for women, above a BMI of 20 (near the middle of the “healthy” weight range). For every waist circumference increase of 10 centimeters (3.9 inches), the risk for Afib was 1.47 times as high for men and 1.37 times as high for women.
When BMI and waist circumference were added to statistical models for predicting Afib — currently based on factors like high blood pressure and age — the likelihood of detecting Afib with these models increased. For men, adding waist circumference improved the predictive power of these models by more than adding BMI did — by 30% versus 23% — while for women, adding BMI improved the predictive power of these models by more than adding waist circumference did — by 23% versus 12%.
Obesity in the abdominal region (abdominal obesity) was also linked to higher risk for Afib in the study — by a factor of 1.83 for men and 1.84 for women, as noted in a Healio article on the study.
“This large study describes, with unique reliability, the importance of obesity as a potentially modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” the researchers wrote. “The obesity epidemic sweeping across both high and low/middle income countries could drive up rates of atrial fibrillation and atrial fibrillation‐related strokes, and our findings make public health interventions to avoid weight gain increasingly pressing.”
Want to learn more about atrial fibrillation? Read “Diabetes and Atrial Fibrillation.”
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