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Irregular Heartbeats Linked To More Than Stroke

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Irregular heartbeats may cause more than just strokes, a new research review suggests. Atrial fibrillation is also associated with a higher risk for heart attacks, heart failure, kidney disease and even sudden death.

Ayodele Odutayo of the University of Oxford and lead author on the study says, “It was particularly noteworthy that the relative and absolute risk increase for heart failure was the highest among all outcomes examined, even higher than the risk of stroke.”

Atrial fibrillation is a condition in which the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly. Also called Afib, this kind of arrhythmia is present in at least 2.7 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association.

The researchers studied 104 research works involving over 9 million participants on Afib and heart disease, kidney disease and death, Fox News reports.

They found that atrial fibrillation was linked to a 46% higher mortality risk for any cause, a 61% increase in heart disease risk, an 88% higher risk of sudden cardiac death, a 64% heightened risk for kidney disease and is five times more likely to cause heart failure.

Strokes were two to three times higher in people with Afib than for those without, the study also found. Up to 90% of those with this arrhythmia have high blood pressure, too.

Odutayo explains that atrial fibrillation can come from different parts of the heart.

Any condition that affects the conduction of electrical impulses in the heart can cause atrial fibrillation.

Dr. Sumeet Chugh, director of the Heart Rhythm Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, says that the study’s findings “highlight the complex nature of atrial fibrillation.” He adds that doctors should follow guidelines for managing Afib if detected in patients and screen for conditions linked to it. Chugh was not part of the study.

Doctors need to keep in mind that stroke is not the only thing that can happen to patients with atrial fibrillation, says Dr. Elsayed Z. Soliman of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston Salem. Soliman was likewise not involved in the study.

“Reducing the burden of non-stroke events in adults with atrial fibrillation would benefit from a focus on primary prevention and the management of cardiovascular risk factors,” Odutayo says. “Regular patient updates should also be provided to patients after lifestyle changes and/or pharmacotherapy have begun as a way to encourage further progress.”

The study was published in The BMJ.

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