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Atrial fibrillation rate rising much faster than expected.

SNOWMASS, COLO. -- The age-adjusted prevalence of atrial fibrillation has tripled in 30 years, Dr. Bernard J. Gersh reported at a conference sponsored by the American College of Cardiology.

"Together with diabetes/metabolic syndrome and heart failure, atrial fibrillation is one of the three growing epidemics of cardiovascular disease in the 21st century. And I think there is now increasing evidence that these three epidemics are interrelated," said Dr. Gersh, professor of medicine at the Mayo Medical School, Rochester, Minn.

The surprisingly large increase in the prevalence of atrial fibrillation over 3 decades was documented in a Mayo Clinic study. Dr. Gersh was an investigator on the study, which was led by Dr. Teresa S. Tsang.

Their longitudinal study involved 1,871 Rochester residents who had a first stroke during 1960-1989 and an equivalent group of age- and gender-matched control subjects (J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 42[1]:93-100, 2003).

Focusing on the control group, Dr. Gersh noted that the prevalence of atrial fibrillation among men aged 66-84 during 1960-1969 was 5%, jumping to 17% in men who were in this age group in 1980-1989.

The same striking trend was evident in women. During 1960-1969, the prevalence of atrial fibrillation was 4% among those aged 66-84, but by 1980-1989 the rate rose to 11% among women in this age category.

What's the explanation for this dramatic increase?

"The simple answer is we really do not know," the cardiologist admitted. "We're looking at this now as a focus of considerable study at our institution."

An important implication of the Mayo data is that widely quoted estimates of the current and future prevalence of atrial fibrillation are probably far too low, Dr. Gersh added.

It's often stated that close to 3 million Americans have atrial fibrillation today, and that with the aging of the population this figure is expected to rise to more than 5 million by 2010, with at least 50% of affected patients expected to be over age 80. But those figures may be underestimates, Dr. Gersh said.
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Title Annotation:Prevalence Tripled in 30 Years
Publication:Internal Medicine News
Date:Feb 15, 2004
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