PhotoMedical experts have long understood that having an irregular heartbeat meant that a person was at an increased risk of stroke. But a new study found that the risk goes far beyond that one condition.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been able to make associations between atrial fibrillation -- the most common form of irregular heartbeat -- and a variety of different health problems. In addition to stroke, they say that having an irregular heartbeat increases risk of heart attack, heart failure, chronic kidney disease, sudden cardiac death, cardiovascular disease, and many other issues.

The study analyzed data from over 100 studies that included over 9 million participants, nearly 600,000 of which had atrial fibrillation. The researchers examined health outcomes for each patient and found that having an irregular heartbeat correlated with increased risk of all-cause mortality, ischemic heart disease, chronic kidney disease, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death.

Additionally, it was found that participants with atrial fibrillation were 2.3 times more likely to have a stroke and five times more likely to experience congestive heart failure, the highest risk outcome that was measured.

Future interventions

The researchers say their work “adds to the growing literature on the association between atrial fibrillation and cardiovascular outcomes beyond stroke.” While they admit that their findings are not definitive, they say that there was general consistency across multiple analyses. They concluded by saying that their findings could be useful in developing interventions that can ultimately lower consumers’ health risks.

“There is merit in developing clinical risk prediction models for outcomes such as congestive heart failure; particularly given our relative and absolute risk estimates. . . our study could have implications for the prioritisation of public health resources and the development of novel interventions for adults with atrial fibrillation,” they said

The full study has been published in the BMJ

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