Women's College Research Institute

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Study finds medications used to treat diabetes may trigger heart failure

July 2015

Dr. Jacob UdellThe Canadian Diabetes Association estimates over two million Canadians are suffering from diabetes; a number they expect will increase by about 50 percent within the next 10 years. Although some patients are able to control their diabetes through meal planning, weight loss, and exercise, an increasing number of individuals rely on blood sugar-lowering medications as part of their treatment plan.

In some clinical trials, however, a relationship has emerged between these medications and the risk of heart failure in patients who take them. Heart failure is a condition of a weakened or stiffened heart resulting in lung congestion, water retention, and inadequate circulation, all of which can be fatal or result in hospitalization for treatment.

To examine the link between heart failure and sugar-lowering medications, Dr. Jacob Udell, scientist and cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital, led a study that reviewed and analyzed data from 14 clinical trials involving nearly 100,000 patients.

Dr. Udell’s team reported that patients with diabetes who were randomized to new or more intensive blood sugar treatments displayed an overall 14 percent increased risk for heart failure compared to those receiving standard care, especially when the treatment strategies or medication produced weight gain.

“Our results continue to ask whether these drugs, which over the long term reduce the risk of blindness, amputations, and going on dialysis, are potentially failing the hearts of our patients,” says Dr. Udell. “We need to do more research to demonstrate the benefit and safety of these medications for patients with diabetes, particularly because this is a growing population across the world.”

The research team hopes that this study encourages patients and doctors to have a conversation about the diabetes medicines or blood sugar control strategies they are using and how they can be proactive in monitoring their heart health going forward.

This study was published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. To read the study, click here.A video interview with Dr. Udell can be viewed here.

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