Atrial fibrillation is a growing global health concern

December 17, 2013

Atrial fibrillation, long considered the most common condition leading to an irregular heartbeat, is a growing and serious global health problem, according to the first study ever to estimate the condition's worldwide prevalence, death rates and societal costs.

The World Health Organization data analysis, led by Sumeet Chugh, MD, associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, shows that 33.5 million people worldwide – or .5% of the world's population – have the condition. Funded partly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, the analysis was conducted with the assistance of the University of Washington's highly respected Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which seeks to identify the world's major health problems so society can best allocate medical resources and funding.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, become chaotic and cause an irregular heartbeat. The can result in heart palpitations along with a variety of symptoms such as fatigue. When the heart isn't pumping blood effectively, blood can stagnate and clot. If the clots break apart and travel to the brain, they can cause a stroke.

The study, believed to be the first to determine the number of people globally with atrial fibrillation, is published online in the peer reviewed medical journal Circulation and is scheduled to be published in the Feb. 25 print edition of the journal.

"Atrial fibrillation has a huge cost in every sense of the word," Chugh said. "It can lead to stroke, hospitalization, as well as lost productivity. Our findings indicate that atrial fibrillation is on the rise around the world and it's a huge public health burden."

During the analysis, Chugh and a team of researchers systematically analyzed data from selected population-based research studies, from among 1,784 published medical research studies on atrial fibrillation, to estimate global and regional prevalence, incidence and mortality related to this condition.

"Finding out the scope of the problem is step No. 1," Chugh said. "Our hope is that we can develop a sustainable global plan to manage atrial fibrillation and find new and effective ways of preventing this condition."

Among the study's findings:

  • In 1990, an estimated 570 of 100,000 men had atrial fibrillation. In 2010, the prevalence rate for men was 596 of 100,000.
  • For females, an estimated 360 of 100,000 women had atrial fibrillation in 1990. In 2010, that rose to 373 of 100,000.
  • In 1990, the number of new cases of atrial fibrillation in men was estimated at 61 per 100,000 population. In 2010, the number of men with new cases of atrial fibrillation rose to 78 per 100,000.
  • The number of new cases of atrial fibrillation in women was 43 per 100,000 population in 1990. In 2010, the number of new cases in women was 60 per 100,000.
  • Although deaths linked to atrial fibrillation are rising around the world, more women with atrial fibrillation are dying in developing countries. In the U.S., deaths linked to atrial fibrillation now are comparable between the sexes.

"A lot more research is needed to fully understand this continuing worldwide increase," Chugh said. "Although the chance of developing does increase with age, these findings are not entirely explained by the aging world population. Several other factors have been suggested and need to be better evaluated, from obesity and hypertension to air pollution."

Explore further: Atrial fibrillation hospitalizations, costs soar in United States

Related Stories

Atrial fibrillation hospitalizations, costs soar in United States

November 18, 2013
U.S. hospitalizations and costs of care for atrial fibrillation nearly doubled from 1998 to 2010, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2013.

Specific heart contractions could predict atrial fibrillation

December 2, 2013
A commonly used heart monitor may be a simple tool for predicting the risk of atrial fibrillation, the most frequently diagnosed type of irregular heart rhythm, according to researchers at UC San Francisco.

Rapid, irregular heartbeat may be linked to problems with memory and thinking

June 5, 2013
People who develop a type of irregular heartbeat common in old age called atrial fibrillation may also be more likely to develop problems with memory and thinking, according to new research published in the June 5, 2013, ...

Weight reduction decreases atrial fibrillation and symptom severity

November 17, 2013
Hany S. Abed, B.Pharm., M.B.B.S., of the University of Adelaide and Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide, Australia and colleagues evaluated the effect of a structured weight reduction program on atrial fibrillation symptoms.

Impact of AF on stroke risk eliminated with multiple risk factors

September 1, 2013
Patients with five or more risk factors have the same stroke risk as patients with atrial fibrillation, according to research presented at the ESC Congress today by Dr. Christine Benn Christiansen from Denmark. The study ...

'Smart' pacemaker can help slow heart keep up, avoid damage

November 19, 2013
A new generation pacemaker that paces only when rhythm disturbances occur can reduce the risk of permanent abnormal heart rhythms in people with a slow heart rate, according to late-breaking research presented at the American ...

Recommended for you

New discovery could reverse tissue damage caused by heart attacks

July 25, 2017
A new discovery by University of Bristol scientists helps to explain how cells which surround blood vessels, called pericytes, stimulate new blood vessels to grow with the hormone 'leptin' playing a key role. Leptin is produced ...

Could aggressive blood pressure treatments lead to kidney damage?

July 18, 2017
Aggressive combination treatments for high blood pressure that are intended to protect the kidneys may actually be damaging the organs, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests.

Quantifying effectiveness of treatment for irregular heartbeat

July 17, 2017
In a small proof-of-concept study, researchers at Johns Hopkins report a complex mathematical method to measure electrical communications within the heart can successfully predict the effectiveness of catheter ablation, the ...

Concerns over side effects of statins stopping stroke survivors taking medication

July 17, 2017
Negative media coverage of the side effects associated with taking statins, and patients' own experiences of taking the drugs, are among the reasons cited by stroke survivors and their carers for stopping taking potentially ...

Study discovers anticoagulant drugs are being prescribed against safety advice

July 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham has shown that GPs are prescribing anticoagulants to patients with an irregular heartbeat against official safety advice.

Protein may protect against heart attack

July 14, 2017
DDK3 could be used as a new therapy to stop the build-up of fatty material inside the arteries

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.