Study links atrial fibrillation to higher risk of heart illnesses

People with an irregular heartbeat have a higher risk of heart attacks, heart failure, kidney problems and sudden cardiac death, a new study has found.

Atrial fibrillation - having an irregular heartbeat - has already been linked to an increased risk for stroke.

But links between the condition and other cardiovascular problems are less clear.

The team of researchers, from Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology in the US, examined 104 studies involving more than nine million people - almost 600,000 of whom had atrial fibrillation.

The study, published in The BMJ, found that those with atrial fibrillation had a 61% higher risk of ischaemic heart disease, a 64% increased risk of chronic kidney disease, an 88% higher risk of sudden car diac death and 96% higher risk of a major cardiovascular event. 

Atrial fibrillation was also associated with a twofold risk of cardiovascular death and a 2.3-fold risk of stroke and a fivefold risk of congestive heart failure. 

The authors conclude: "The relative and absolute risk increase associated with many of these events is greater than that of stroke. 

"Interventions are needed to reduce the risk of non-stroke outcomes in adults with atrial fibrillation."

According to the NHS Choices website, atrial fibrillation affects around one million people in the UK.

The condition can affect adults of any age, but it becomes more common with age. It affects about seven in 100 people aged over 65, and more men than women have it. 

Commenting on the study, Lucy Wilkinson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is a common condition but we do not yet fully understand it.

"This large review found that AF is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and overall death. However, the review's authors did not examine why this association exists.

"The risk factors for AF, which include being over 65, suffering from coronary heart disease, high blood pressure or heart valve disease, are well established. All of these could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or death. The findings reiterate that if a person has AF, it's important for medics to consider that they might have other heart or circulatory conditions.

"Having an irregular pulse can be a sign of AF, therefore you should know your pulse. If your pulse is irregular or if you're concerned in any way about it, you should make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible."

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