Race is a Factor in Atrial Fibrillation

White people are more at risk than other ethnic groups for an abnormal heart condition, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco discovered that self-described non-Hispanic whites are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than people from other race or ethnic groups.

 “We found that consistently, every other race had a statistically significant lower risk of atrial fibrillation compared to whites,” said senior author Gregory Marcus, MD, an associate professor at UCSF.

The team's findings are reported in the journal Circulation.

In reaching their conclusions, the researchers examined the records of 14 million California patients who visited the emergency room, had outpatient services, or were hospitalized between 2005 and 2009. The patient sample included Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.

Previous research established African Americans at lower risk for atrial fibrillation than whites, despite having more risk factors for atrial fibrillation. Now the same has been found true for other ethnic groups when compared with whites.

“We were surprised to find that Asian Americans and Hispanics have similar relative decreases in atrial fibrillation risk as African Americans, suggesting there is some characteristic unique to whites that increases the likelihood of this abnormal heart rhythm,” said first author Thomas A. Dewland, MD, a cardiac electrophysiology fellow in the UCSF Division of Cardiology.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. People over 40 years of age have a 26 percent lifetime risk of developing this abnormality, according to the Framingham Heart Study. Marcus said that the risk isn’t related to existing heart disease among or high blood pressure among white patients. “Presumably there may be a gene, or a set of genes, in European ancestry or some important behavior or environmental exposure in whites that increases the risk for atrial fibrillation,” Marcus said. In comparison to Caucasians, African Americans had 16 percent lower risk, Hispanics had 22 percent lower risk, and Asian Americans also had 22 percent lower risk for atrial fibrillation.
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