Feature | December 23, 2013

WHO Study: Atrial Fibrillation is a Growing Global Health Concern

December 23, 2013 — Atrial fibrillation (AF), 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 (WHO) data analysis, led by Sumeet Chugh, M.D., associate director, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, shows 33.5 million people worldwide — or 0.5 percent 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 University’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The study, believed to be the first to determine the number of people globally with AF, 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,” said Chugh. “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 AF — to estimate global and regional prevalence, incidence and mortality related to this condition.
“Finding out the scope of the problem is step No. 1,” said Chugh. “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 AF. In 2010, the prevalence rate for men was 596 of 100,000.
  • For females, an estimated 360 of 100,000 women had AF in 1990. In 2010, that rose to 373 of 100,000.
  • In 1990, the number of new cases of AF in men was estimated at 61 per 100,000. In 2010, the number of men with new cases of AF rose to 78 per 100,000.
  • The number of new cases of AF in women was 43 per 100,000 in 1990. In 2010, the number of new cases in women was 60 per 100,000.
  • Although deaths linked to AF are rising around the world, more women with AF are dying in developing countries. In the United States, deaths linked to AF now are comparable between the sexes.
“A lot more research is needed to fully understand this continuing worldwide increase,” said 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 have been suggested and need to be better evaluated, from obesity and hypertension to air pollution.”
For more information: cedars-sinai.edu, circ.ahajournals.org

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