Low blood sugar ‘can lead to heart attacks’

Prof Simon Heller
Prof Simon Heller
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Sudden heart attacks which kill young people in their sleep could be triggered by low blood sugar levels brought on by diabetes, Sheffield researchers have found.

Academics from Sheffield University’s human metabolism department and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals have discovered that prolonged periods of heart rhythm disturbance can be caused by hypoglycaemia - plummeting blood sugar levels.

The study was conducted with a group of older patients with Type 2 diabetes and a history of heart disease. But the findings could also shed new light on so-called ‘dead in bed’ syndrome, which refers to sudden deaths of young, otherwise healthy diabetics.

Few of the patients taking part reported symptoms of low blood sugar levels or irregular heartbeats, which were only detected through continuous glucose monitoring and electrocardiograms.

Previous studies ruled out a direct effect of hypoglycaemia as a cause of death in people with Type 2 diabetes.

Simon Heller, professor of clinical diabetes, said: “While we expected to find some low overnight blood sugars we were startled to find how extensively it was occurring overnight and that it was sometimes lasting for several hours. When this occurred, we also saw evidence of prolonged periods of very slow heart rate rhythms in patients.

“While a cause for concern, these slow heart rates were not associated with any very serious heart rhythm disturbances in the study. We don’t want to alarm patients, but what we’ve found is potentially important.”

Prof Heller said patients could consider checking their blood glucose late at night ‘every now and then’, or speaking to their doctor about changing their insulin regime.