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—.5 percent of the population—have atrial fibrillation. This was the first study to estimate the condition’s worldwide prevalence, death rates, and societal costs.
“Our findings indicate that atrial fibrillation is on the rise around the world, and it’s a huge public health burden,” explains Dr. Chugh.
Atrial fibrillation occurs when electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, become chaotic and cause an irregular heartbeat. When the heart isn’t pumping blood effectively, the blood can stagnate and clot—which can lead to a stroke, hospitalization, loss of productivity, and even death.
“Finding out the scope of the problem is step number one,” he says. “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 out of 100,000 men had atrial fibrillation. In 2010, the prevalence rate for men was 596 out of 100,000.
- An estimated 360 out of 100,000 women had atrial fibrillation in 1990. In 2010, that rose to 373 out 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, that prevalence 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 had increased to 60 per 100,000.
- Although deaths linked to atrial fibrillation are rising around the world, more women with the condition are dying in developing countries. In the U.S., deaths linked to it are now comparable between the sexes.
“A lot more research is needed to fully understand this continuing worldwide increase,” says Dr. Chugh “Although the chance of developing atrial fibrillation does increase with age, these findings are not entirely explained by the aging world population. Several other factors—from obesity and hypertension to air pollution—have been suggested and need to be better evaluated.”