A pill that tackles high blood sugar in type 2 diabetics might also protect against heart failure.
The medication, empagliflozin, is thought to stimulate the heart, making it more efficient and leading to ‘significant improvements’ in function after just three months, according to a study funded by the British Heart Foundation.
Patients involved in the trial also lost weight and saw improvements in their blood pressure.
Type 2 diabetes, triggered by genetics, an inactive lifestyle and excess body fat, affects roughly three million Britons, with millions more thought to be undiagnosed.
Although there is a range of treatments for the condition, patients are still more likely to develop a raft of heart problems due to the damage that raised blood sugar causes inside arteries and veins.
Type 2 diabetics have two to three times the normal risk of heart and circulatory problems, and a third die from cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.
A pill that tackles high blood sugar in type 2 diabetics might also protect against heart failure. Pictured: Stock image
Experts had previously noted that diabetics on empagliflozin, which forces the body to expel excess sugar in the urine so it doesn’t build up in the blood, were less likely to develop these conditions.
Major trials subsequently showed that the drug – along with similar medication dapagliflozin – taken alongside other drugs could improve symptoms in people living with heart failure.
This condition, which affects one million Britons, occurs when the heart becomes too weak or stiff and is unable to pump blood effectively round the body. Although the outlook is improving, at present one in five patients with heart failure dies within a year of diagnosis.
Those living with heart failure suffer debilitating symptoms, including extreme breathlessness and crushing fatigue that sees them regularly hospitalised. Heart failure causes roughly 86,000 emergency hospital admissions each year, and for many the only way out is a heart transplant.
But it is now becoming clear that empagliflozin could help prevent diabetes patients from developing heart failure in the first place.
In the latest study, researchers at the University of Leeds recruited 18 type 2 diabetes patients to take the drug and monitored them over 12 weeks.
None of the patients had heart failure, but at the start of the study all were found to have lower-than-normal heart energy levels and weaker heart contractions.
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Cardiologist Dr Sharmaine Thirunavukarasu, who led the study, said: ‘In most patients, [by the end of the trial] we saw a significant improvement in the heart’s energy levels, and also improvements in the amount of blood being pumped by their heart.’
The researchers believe this is because the drug has a direct effect on the heart muscle, making it stronger.
Dr Thirunavukarasu added: ‘We also saw patients lose weight, their blood pressure came down and generally they told us they had more energy and felt better.
‘Although we didn’t formally look at quality of life in this study, you could see in the way they carried themselves – they looked happier.
‘Seeing their health improve seemed to inspire them to eat more healthily and exercise more.
‘We know these drugs work wonders if you already have advanced disease, but to have something that protects patients against ever developing it is hugely positive.’
One of the patients on the trial was quiz champion Barry Simmons. The 72-year-old, who regularly features on the television show Eggheads, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 12 years ago.
Barry, a retired IT consultant who has two grown-up children and lives in Leeds with wife Janet, 69, said: ‘Since I was diagnosed I have seen my blood sugar levels spike, and at times this has been difficult to control, despite taking medication and exercise.
‘It was incredible to see the difference this new medication made – and I was absolutely amazed when I was told that the blood flow to my heart had improved by 18 per cent in just three months.
‘My blood sugar levels improved, my blood pressure reduced and, along with regular exercise, I lost half a stone.
‘When I was diagnosed with diabetes I was 15st 10 lb – which was pretty overweight. I’m now 11st 8 lb. More than anything else, I just feel a lot better. It’s wonderful.’