A meta-analysis suggests that having an irregular heartbeat, usually a sign that the patient is at risk of suffering a stroke, can ripple across the entire body causing a wide range of problems. According to the researchers from Oxford University and MIT who combed through 104 studies on the subject, a heart that doesn’t beat in tune increases a person’s risk of heart failure, kidney disease and dying of heart disease.
The studies included in the analysis collectively involve 9 million patients, including more than half a million with atrial fibrillation, the medical term used to describe an irregular heartbeat. The findings suggest people with atrial fibrillation:
- have a 2.3 times greater risk of developing an ischemic stroke, which is a type of stroke caused by blood clots, than controls with a regular heartbeat;
- are five times more likely to suffer from heart failure;
- are twice as likely to die from heart disease;
- are 1.6 times more likely to develop kidney disease;
- and, finally, they’re 1.9 times as likely to have a sudden cardiac arrest than controls.
Previously, atrial fibrillation was almost exclusively linked with strokes but now it seems that the implications cover a wider spectrum of risks to health. As such, the authors of the report published in BMJ caution doctors to reconsider how they treat their patients in light of these findings.
At the moment, patients with irregular heartbeats are prescribed anti-coagulant drugs but these do little to none to reduce the other risks like liver kidney disease or heart failure. The cause of irregular heartbeat is not known but doctors say high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes can increase the risk of developing this condition. Previous research suggests being bereaved or widowed can also trigger the condition.
“A trial fibrillation is associated with an increased risk of death and an increased risk of cardiovascular and renal disease,” said lead author Dr. Ayodele Odutayo of Oxford University. “Interventions aimed at reducing outcomes beyond stroke are warranted in patients with atrial fibrillation.”