People with an irregular heartbeat have a greater risk of developing a whole host of serious, and potentially fatal, health problems.
That’s according to new research which found atrial fibrillation patients were five times more likely to experience heart failure and twice as likely to die from cardiovascular issues than those without the condition.
Researchers said the findings should help doctors identify those at risk and provide medical interventions.
Atrial fibrillation affects roughly one million people in the UK. It is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
A normal heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you’re resting, according to the NHS. However with atrial fibrillation, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats per minute.
Researchers from the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, analysed 104 studies involving over nine million participants, 580,000 of whom had an irregular heartbeat.
It was already known that stroke was a risk for people with atrial fibrillation, however other health issues associated with it were less clear.
Experts discovered that atrial fibrillation was associated with an increased risk of ischaemic heart disease (coronary artery disease), chronic kidney disease, heart failure and sudden cardiac death.
The study, published in the journal BMJ, also found that the risk from health outcomes such as heart failure, heart attack and kidney disease was greater than that of stroke.
Researchers said the study “adds to the growing literature on the association between atrial fibrillation and cardiovascular outcomes beyond stroke”.
They said the findings should be used to predict patients’ risk of issues such as congestive heart failure in later life.
“Our study could have implications for the prioritisation of public health resources and the development of interventions for adults with atrial fibrillation,” they concluded.
Lucy Wilkinson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said of the study: “Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is a common condition but we do not yet fully understand it.
“This large review found that AF is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and overall death. However, the review’s authors did not examine why this association exists.
“The risk factors for AF, which include being over 65, suffering from coronary heart disease, high blood pressure or heart valve disease, are well established. All of these could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or death.
“The findings reiterate that if a person has AF, it’s important for medics to consider that they might have other heart or circulatory conditions.”
She added that people who have an irregular pulse should make an appointment to see their GP as soon as possible.