Common Technique Spotted Heart Rhythm Risk

Atrial fibrillation may be predicted with device that detects specific heart contractions

(RxWiki News) While risk of stroke or heart failure rises with atrial fibrillation (abnormal heartbeat), people with the condition may not show any symptoms. A simple monitor, however, may diagnose this common irregular heartbeat.

Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, makes a person five times more likely to have a stroke, according to the National Stroke Association. Still, many Americans who have Afib don’t know it.

Researchers recently found that a portable electronic device used to monitor the electrical activity of the heart may detect premature atrial contractions (PACs), a sign that a person is at a greater risk of getting Afib.

"See your doctor regularly to monitor heart health."

Gregory Marcus, MD, an associate professor of medicine who specializes in electrophysiology in the University of California–San Francisco Division of Cardiology, served as senior author of this study analyzing data on 1,260 participants who had not previously been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

These individuals, who were age 65 or older, received 24-hour Holter monitoring as part of the national Cardiovascular Health Study between 1989 and 1990.

A Holter monitor is a battery-operated portable gadget that measures and records heart activity (electrocardiogram or ECG) continuously for 24 to 48 hours or longer depending on how it is used. The device is the size of a small camera with electrodes that attach to the skin.

The Holter assesses heart activity as an individual goes about daily activities. That activity may include PACs or premature heartbeats that start in the atria, or the two upper chambers of the heart.

Dr. Marcus and colleagues observed that those who had a higher PAC count — or more contractions — had an 18 percent greater likelihood for developing Afib.

These researchers compared this technique for risk evaluation to the use of factors from the Framingham Heart Study. That study showed how body mass index, demographic information, past medical history and data from electrocardiograms may be weighed to calculate Afib risk.

"We found that the PAC count by itself was as good as or better than the Framingham model in discriminating those who would, versus would not, ultimately develop atrial fibrillation," Dr. Marcus said in a press release.

"While this study holds promise regarding both a relatively simple and powerful measure to predict atrial fibrillation and may provide some clues regarding specific strategies that might actually work to prevent the disease, it is important to emphasize that this study was not designed to prove a causal link between PACs and new-onset atrial fibrillation," he said.

This study was published December 3 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This research was supported by the American Heart Association, the Joseph Drown Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
December 4, 2013