AFib is more common and dangerous in people under age 65 than previously thought, new research finds. 

Summary: A new study by UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute reveals that atrial fibrillation (AFib) is more prevalent and hazardous in younger adults than previously understood. Research involving 67,221 patients found that 17,335, over a quarter, were under 65. These younger patients are at a higher risk of hospitalizations for heart failure, stroke, and heart attacks, and have higher mortality rates compared to their peers without Afib. This demographic also exhibits more cardiovascular risk factors, which contribute to severe heart conditions. The findings challenge past perceptions and highlight the need for targeted interventions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Over a quarter (25.8%) of AFib patients studied were under the age of 65, indicating a higher-than-expected prevalence in younger adults.
  • Younger AFib patients face significantly greater risks of hospitalization for heart conditions such as heart failure, stroke, and heart attacks, compared to non-AFib peers.
  • These patients also show higher mortality rates, with survival rates 1.3 to 3.16 times worse than similarly aged individuals without AFib.

Atrial fibrillation (AFb), a common type of arrhythmia that is on the rise in people under the age of 65, is more dangerous in this increasingly younger population than previously thought, according to a new study.

The study, which researchers say is among the first to examine a large group of AFib patients younger than 65 in the US, found that these younger patients were more likely to be hospitalized for heart failure, stroke, or heart attack and had significantly higher rates of comorbidity and mortality, compared to similarly aged and gender-matched people who do not have AFib.

The study, authored by physician-scientists at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, is published in Circulation Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology.

More Young Patients Seeking Care for AFib

“Common knowledge among cardiologists is that, in people under 65, AFb is extremely uncommon and not detrimental. But there really hasn’t been any data to back that up,” says lead author Aditya Bhonsale, MD, MHS, a UPMC cardiac electrophysiologist in UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute’s Division of Cardiology who is also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, in a release.

He adds in a release, “At UPMC, we’ve been seeing a lot more young patients with AFib in recent years and have been interested in understanding the real-world clinical course of these individuals. As a payer-provider with patient records across more than 40 hospitals, UPMC was uniquely positioned to ask this question, which no one has been able to ask before.”

Drawing from the electronic health records of 67,221 UPMC patients seeking care for AFib from 2010 through 2019, the researchers found that more than a quarter (17,335) were under the age of 65, a stark contrast to the 2% prevalence commonly estimated. The high proportion likely reflects an increasing burden of cardiovascular risk factors in younger Americans, according to Bhonsale.

Increased Mortality Risks 

The UPMC team found that over the course of a decade, survival rates for those with the arrhythmia were 1.3 to 1.5 times worse for men with AFib and 1.82 to 3.16 times worse for women, compared to similarly aged patients who did not have AFib. The patients studied also had high rates of cardiovascular disease risk factors, including smoking, obesity, hypertension, and sleep apnea, which contribute to damaging structural and electrical changes in the heart over time.

“We are optimistic that data from this study will foster future investigation to evaluate optimal therapies for patients with AFib,” said senior author Sandeep Jain, MD, director of cardiac electrophysiology in UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute’s Division of Cardiology who is also a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, in a release.

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