Drug used to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetic patients could also benefit hearts

Article By: Lee Kettle

A drug used to treat people living with Type 2 diabetes could also help improve their heart function

Enhancing heart function
Researchers at the University of Leeds have discovered that empagliflozin, which is typically prescribed to help reduce blood sugar levels, could enhance the energetics and function of these patients’ hearts.

A recent study recruited 18 people living with Type 2 diabetes to take this medication on clinical grounds, and they were monitored over three months.

The patients underwent MRI scans of their hearts, along with blood tests, before treatment. Their results were compared with people living without the condition and found that patients living with Type 2 diabetes typically had lower energy levels in their heart. The results also found that patients had a lower percentage of blood being pumped from their heart each time it contracts.

Twelve weeks later, follow-up scans and blood tests were carried out. In most patients, these revealed significant improvements in the heart’s energy levels, along with relative improvements in the percentage of blood being pumped from their heart. It also discovered a 61% average reduction of a substance called NT-proBNP in their blood. High levels of NT-proBNP can be an indication of heart failure.

Some patients experienced other health benefits, including weight loss and lower blood pressure, and have continued taking the drug. One patient who is also living with advanced heart failure saw no benefits from the medication.

Providing new insights
Dr Sharmaine Thirunavukarasu, who led the research at the University of Leeds, said: “Adults with diabetes are two to three times more likely to develop heart and circulatory diseases, so it is crucial that we find new medicines which can not only reduce blood sugar levels but can also simultaneously protect the heart.

“Our study shows encouraging signs that empagliflozin could be the drug to do just that, and provides new insights into just how this medication can benefit the heart’s function. This is important if we want to recommend this drug to more people living with Type 2 diabetes in future, to avoid conditions such as heart failure and to improve their quality of life.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, our Associate Medical Director, said: “In the UK, one third of adults with diabetes die from a heart or circulatory disease, so finding early treatments and preventions is key.

“This study builds on emerging evidence about the benefits empagliflozin can have on the heart. Further research will be needed on a larger cohort of patients to identify who may benefit the most from taking this medication, but this is a promising step.”

Barry's story

Barry Simmons was one participant of the trial. The 72-year-old – who is a game show champion and features on the famous quiz show Eggheads – was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 12 years ago.

Barry, who lives in Leeds, 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 medication made – and I was absolutely amazed when I was told that the blood flow to my heart had improved by 18% in just three months.

“I also saw several other benefits during the study. My blood sugar levels improved, my blood pressure reduced and, along with regular exercise, I lost half a stone. I’m continuing to take empagliflozin alongside other diabetes medication as it really has made such a positive impact to my life.”


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