HCMA discusses Sudden Cardiac Arrest risks in HCM and Atrial Fibrillation management
Atrial Fibrillation and Sudden Cardiac Death
A recent study presents a new concern for people afib: sudden cardiac death. Learn how to protect yourself from afib complications that put you at risk.
By Alice Martin
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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A new study linking atrial fibrillation and sudden cardiac death has added to the list of serious afib complications. Sudden cardiac death is responsible for more than half of all deaths from cardiovascular disease in the United States, between 300,000 and 350,000 people every year. While the report analyzes sudden cardiac deaths from afib, it's also important to put the information in perspective. "It is certainly an important finding," says Duy Nguyen, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, but he urges caution. "It's a stretch to say your risk of sudden cardiac death increases from this study alone."
Afib and Sudden Cardiac Death: What We Know
Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis followed two large groups of people over several years, one of more than 15,000 people between the ages of 45 and 64, and the other, more than 5,000 people 65 and older. People with afib in the younger group had more than three times the risk of sudden cardiac death than their peers; people with afib in the older age group had more than double the risk of sudden cardiac death than their peers.
According to the researchers, a possible explanation for the higher number of sudden cardiac deaths may be because atrial fibrillation facilitates fast heart rhythms in the lower chambers of the heart, called ventricular arrhythmias. They make it very difficult for the heart to pump blood and can lead to sudden death if not treated.
One mitigating factor in the findings, however, is that the patients in the study had been hospitalized. "They may have had other high risk health problems," says Dr. Nguyen, "such as previous heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure."
Protecting Against Health Problems With Afib
Atrial fibrillation can lead to serious complications, some far more frequent than sudden cardiac death — for instance, it is a leading cause of stroke and heart disease. But in most cases, if you are properly treated and closely monitored by your doctor, afib is not a life-threatening condition, Nguyen says.
Talk to your doctor about taking steps to reduce all serious health problems with afib:
Blood clots.One of the most common complications of atrial fibrillation is the formation of blood clots in the heart. Afib makes it harder for the heart to pump effectively, and when blood flow slows, the risk of blood clots increases.
Stroke.Stroke is a very serious complication of afib, occurring if a blood clot forms, dislodges, and travels to the brain. "This is still the biggest concern when treating afib," says Nguyen. Many afib-related strokes can be prevented with blood thinning medications and by following a heart healthy lifestyle.
Heart failure.Heart failure is a condition in which your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's demands. "If your heart is always going at 150 beats a minute," says Nguyen, "it's like a person running a marathon every day." If your heart rhythm is very fast, and your afib is not controlled, it may weaken the heart.
Sudden cardiac death."Sudden cardiac death is very common, but very hard to predict," says Nguyen. To decrease your risk:
"The new evidence about sudden cardiac death does not change how we treat afib," says Nguyen.
Video: New Anti-arrhythmics To Vanquish Sudden Cardiac Death or AFIb: KOR Therapies Video 2
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