According to a study recently published in European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, palpitations or atrial extrasystoles are the main risk factor for atrial fibrillation. Results of a large cohort study show that the most important risk factor for atrial fibrillation installation for both women and men are palpitations and they are most often caused by lifestyle. The study is the first of its kind to investigate the role of palpitations in the setting of atrial fibrillation.
The study had a sample of 22,815 people recruited from Norway during 1994-1995. The follow up period was about 11 years and the mean age was 46 years. Patient data such as height, weight, heart rate, blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were collected and statistical analysis found that atrial fibrillation occurred in 3% of women and 4.2% of men during the follow-up (11 years). Researchers have also found that age, palpitations and hypertension are leading risk factors for atrial fibrillation installation.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia and a major risk factor for heart failure. Basically during atrial fibrillation the normal atrial systole disappears and atria no longer contract properly. Important to note is that atrial fibrillation is an irregular arrhythmia and different from atrial flutter. If atrial fibrillation is newly installed, chemical or electrical cardioversion to normal rhythm is indicated in the absence of contraindications. However, if the patient can not be converted to sinus rhythm, he should follow chronic treatment. One of the most common drugs used in atrial fibrillation is digoxin in order to control heart rate. In addition, due to the disappearance of atrial systole, the blood forms clots. It is therefore recommended that patients with atrial fibrillation take oral anticoagulants chronically under INR measurement.
During their study, researchers looked for risk factors for heart palpitations and have found that lifestyle is a major risk factor. Instead the most important risk factors for atrial fibrillation were biological ones, such as age, weight, diabetes, blood pressure, body mass index. However, the first author Dr Audhild Nyrnes from the Department of Community Medicine, University of TromsÃ¸, Norway, said that: “Although the occurrence of palpitations was assessed before a diagnosis of AF and the association remained significant even after adjustment for other AF risk factors, we cannot conclude with certainty that the association is causal.” He added that between the two conditions (palpitations and atrial fibrillation) may be a causal relationship since the palpitations are often described as an irregular heart rate. Researchers also noted that palpitations are harmless when are associated with lifestyle ( alcohol, smoking) lifestyle habits that can be adjusted.