Patients, healthcare providers and payers now have more to be concerned with regarding atrial fibrillation (Afib) diagnoses. Increased risk of heart attack and kidney failure are now being associated to having an irregular heartbeat, according to an analysis of 104 studies spanning nine million people by the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The new study shows that atrial fibrillation has been found to increase the risk of death by 46 percent, ischemic heart disease by 61 percent, chronic kidney disease by 64 percent, sudden cardiac death by 88 percent, and major cardiac events by 96 percent. Oxford and MIT also found atrial fibrillation patients to be five times more likely to experience congestive heart failure, and additional correlations between Afib and underlying risk factors for cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and sleep apnea.
Atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat, is one of the most common types of cardiac arrhythmias, affecting over 6 million Americans annually. Afib typically occurs in the elderly population and has been rising as the primary or related cause of death for the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Anticoagulants, a type of blood-thinning medication, have been the focus of healthcare providers and the most widely used way to treat atrial fibrillation patients in recent years. A prescriber’s goal for anticoagulants is to keep the heart in a stable rhythm, reducing the chance of further complications related to remaining in a prolonged state of cardiac irregularity.
Although these blood-thinning medications have been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, the Oxford-MIT study reports that anticoagulants show “little reduction in mortality related to congestive heart failure and sudden cardiac death… It could be that rhythm control treatments might not have been effective at treating atrial fibrillation or that the treatments resulted in additional side effects that outweighed the benefits.”
The new side effects related to atrial fibrillation found by the Oxford-MIT joint study calls for healthcare systems to switch their primary focus to preventing and managing cardiovascular risk factors in Afib patients for non-stroke related events, as stroke is no longer of the upmost risk or concern for atrial fibrillation patients.
Although stroke used to be the most pressing risk-factor for atrial fibrillation patients, Oxford and MIT’s study revealed many, more pressing, related medical conditions. This new study raises important questions in the medical community about how healthcare systems treat atrial fibrillation patients and could have lasting implications for Afib research and public healthcare funding.
By Sydney Ellis
Sources: The British Medical Journal, The Telegraph, British Heart Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention