Because diabetes and atrial fibrillation (AFib) have many of the same risk factors, it’s not surprising that some people develop both conditions. It's important to know how to lower your chances of developing one if you have the other.

Some experts believe that diabetes itself could be a risk factor for AFib. A study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research and reported on PubMed followed 34,720 female health professionals, of whom 937 had type 2 diabetes. Over 16 years, the women with diabetes had almost double the risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Additionally, according to Everyday Health, your chance of developing AFib may go up about 3 percent every year you have diabetes.

Diabetes and atrial fibrillation have similar risk factors.

Why diabetes may cause atrial fibrillation

While it's not known exactly how diabetes and atrial fibrillation may be linked, healthcare professionals do know that diabetes causes inflammation in the body. Over time, this inflammation along with high levels of blood sugar could thicken the heart muscle and cause changes in the heart's electrical system. This could make the heart quiver or beat irregularly.

Preventing AFib

Even if you have diabetes, you can take steps to lower your chance of developing atrial fibrillation. One important risk factor for both diabetes and AFib is sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea symptoms, like daytime sleepiness, headaches, and loud snoring, speak to your doctor about being tested for the condition.

Certain lifestyle changes may also help. Because both atrial fibrillation and diabetes put you at risk for a stroke, it's important to adopt heart-healthy habits. Here are a few suggestions.

• If you're overweight, your first step should be to get down to a healthy weight and then stay there. Doing this can also help you lower your cholesterol and blood pressure—two factors that can contribute to heart disease if they're too high.
• Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and choose lean meats. Limit your intake of saturated fats, choosing low-fat or skim milk products and cutting your consumption of processed snack foods. You do need healthy kinds of fat in your diet, which you’ll find in olive and canola oil, fish, and nuts. When it comes to grain products, choose whole grains over refined. Also, limit your salt intake to help lower high blood pressure. Watch for high sodium in prepared or processed foods. Grilling, broiling and steaming are healthier ways to prepare food than frying.
• Get plenty of exercise. Aim for 30 minutes of activity almost every day of the week.
• Avoid long periods of inactivity. If you like to spend your evenings on the couch watching TV, get up during commercials to prepare your lunch for the next day, brush your teeth, or simply walk around your home and stretch. If you sit all day at work, take breaks every hour or so to walk around the office for a couple of minutes.