Keeping blood pressure and blood sugar levels under control might prevent a common heart rhythm disorder called "heart block."
That's the finding from a new study analyzing data on more than 6,000 people, aged 30 and older, in Finland.
In the study, the University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that 58 of those people developed heart block over an average follow-up of 25 years.
Heart block, or atrioventricular block, occurs when electrical signals between the heart's four chambers are disrupted. Often felt as a skipped beat, it can lead to the need for a pacemaker.
Every 10mm increase in systolic blood pressure resulted in a 22 percent greater risk of heart block, and every 1mm increase in fasting blood sugar (glucose) resulted in a 19 percent greater risk, the findings showed.
The researchers estimated that 47 percent of the 58 heart block cases could have been prevented with ideal blood pressure and 11 percent with normal fasting glucose.
Other factors in the Finnish data associated with increased risk of heart block were older age, being male and having a history of heart attack or heart failure.
The study was published online Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The researchers noted that there has been little research on whether lifestyle changes can prevent heart block, probably because the condition is widely treated with pacemakers.
"It is perhaps precisely because pacemakers so successfully and immediately address cases of heart block that we have previously failed to devote more attention to prevention of this important disease," study senior author Dr. Gregory Marcus, a UCSF Health cardiologist, said in a university news release.
"In addition to the prevention and treatment of [heart attack] and heart failure, effective treatment of hypertension and maintenance of normal blood sugars may be useful prevention strategies," he added.
"Given the prevalence of heart block in the adult male population, as well as the multiple risks associated with pacemakers, it would be worthwhile to pursue further research on this connection," Marcus added.
"This new information also may help persuade hypertensive individuals to receive and continue their prescribed treatments," he concluded.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on heart block.
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