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Risk Score May Predict Abnormal Heart Rhythm
Date:2/26/2009

Could be first step in finding way to prevent atrial fibrillation, experts say

THURSDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Weighing a combination of risk factors could help doctors predict which patients are the most likely to develop atrial fibrillation, a new study suggests.

To that end, the researchers have developed a risk score that might one day help prevent what has become the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm in the United States, affecting about 2.2 million people.

"We know a lot about the prevention of many different types of vascular disease, but there has been very little attention paid to preventing AF," said lead researcher Dr. Emelia Benjamin, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine.

But attention might be warranted, since the condition is on the increase in the United States. By 2050, almost 16 million Americans will have AF, Benjamin said. This dramatic increase is partly due to people living longer, so they are more likely to get diseases associated with aging. In addition, people with heart disease are living longer, she explained.

The condition causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat erratically, which hinders the heart's ability to pump blood. It can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and dementia, and although it can be controlled with medication or surgical procedures, there is no way yet to keep it from developing, according to the American Heart Association.

The risk factors for AF are known, but they tend to be looked at one at a time, and there has been no way of predicting an individual's risk for the disease, Benjamin said. "We developed a risk score for new-onset AF that would work in a doctor's office, or a person could use it to figure out their risk of AF," she said.

The risk factors for AF include older age, being male, being overweight, hypert
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