Discoveries Magazine


Heart-Wrenching Results

heart-wrenchingAtrial fibrillation has long been considered the most common forms of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat—but a landmark study reveals that it is a growing and serious global health problem.

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.”

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2 Responses

  1. Sherry S says:

    I am very interested in a fib, as my father and a number of other relatives on my paternal side have/had it. My father went off Coumadin for a medical procedure, and suffered a massive stroke. I hope that strides are made in this area.

  2. Cynthia B says:

    Thank you so much for educating your readers that an “irregular heartbeat” CAN kill you!! So many physicians who conduct sports-related exams, find irregular heartbeats, but tell both the young athlete he passed he exam anyway. And then the parents are told that an irregular heartbeat won’t kill their son or daughter while playing soccer, football, baseball, basketball, etc. Try telling that to the many parents who have lost a son or daughter to an irregular heartbeat.

    I’m lucky to be alive, as my heart rate got up to 298 beats per minute, with 60 being the norm, before I could get a cardiologist to take me serious. I had cardiac ablation performed, and it was found that the culprit was that the upper chamber of my heart, which is consistent with that of atrial fib, had been damaged upon birth and neither I or my parents ever knew. And to think how many of those moments in my life, where I was either hiking, bodybuilding, or performing some other strenuous activity in my life, could have killed me instantly!!

    I still live with two other birth defects, left circumflex anomalous artery and a mobile atrial septal aneurysm, and am considering open-heart surgery to correct these anomalies. I would love to see an article, in the Cedars-Sinai Discoveries magazine, regarding Adult Congenital Heart Disease, a disease that is so very hard to diagnose in adulthood, especially in women, rather than at birth. I was born in 1953 and pretty much all the pediatrician had back then was a stethoscope.

    Keep up the good work, and stay on the issue of heart disease…after all, it is the number one killer of men and women over all cancers combined, and the only difference between a man and women in regard to being the number one killer is that it’s killing women at a faster rate due to lack of education, funding, research, and the fact that women get blown off as either having panic attacks, anxiety, being hormonal, or all of the above.

    Thank you for listening, and not just with your stethoscope 🙂

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