Atrial fibrillation hospitalizations triple since 1985, will continue climb

DALLAS, July 29 A substantial increase in U.S. hospitalizations for atrial fibrillation, the most common sustained irregular heart beat, will be a "staggering burden" on public health and patients' quality of life, researchers report in today's rapid access issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Prevention and education efforts must be pursued to curb the trend, says senior author George A. Mensah, M.D., chief of the cardiovascular health programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and co-author of the study.

Among people age 35 and older, the number of hospitalizations in which atrial fibrillation was listed as the first diagnosis increased 144 percent from 154,086 in 1985 to 376,487 in 1999, according to the analysis of hospital discharge records. Moreover, the total number of hospitalizations in which atrial fibrillation was listed as a diagnosis jumped 190 percent from 787,750 to almost 2.3 million in the same 15-year period.

Current predictions are for atrial fibrillation-related hospitalizations to climb to more than 3.3 million by 2025, Mensah notes. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the loss of organized and coordinated contractions between the chambers of the heart atria (upper) and ventricles (lower). The atria quiver instead of beating or contracting effectively. Thus, blood isn't pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot. A clot that leaves the heart and blocks an artery in the brain causes stroke. Hypertension, congestive heart failure, diabetes and previous heart attack also increase the risk for AF.

Some AF hospitalizations are for procedures used to convert AF to normal rhythm, which might explain a small percentage of the increased hospitalizations, Mensah says.

In addition, the risk for AF increases with age so hospitalization rates rise with the aging population.

Mensah and colleagues searched the National Hospital Discharge Surgery to ide

Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association

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