The prevalence of Atrial Fibrillation globally is rising at a significant rate.
However, researchers, scientists and clinicians remain uncertain as to how many people may have the heart irregularity because of this rapid growth.
In addition, there are concerns that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be millions of people worldwide with Atrial Fibrillation (AF) who have not been diagnosed because they were
reluctant to present themselves to their physician at the height of the pandemic for a variety of reasons.
In a report published in the International Journal of Stroke last year, researchers said that it was estimated that 6-12 million people will suffer from AF in the United States by 2050 (compared to 3-6 million now) and 17.9 million people in Europe by 2060, up from the present 9 million.
As AF is a major risk factor for ischemic stroke and carries an economic burden along with significant morbidity and mortality, the study aimed to provide comprehensive and updated statistics on worldwide epidemiology of atrial fibrillation.
It showed that just over three million new cases of AF worldwide were registered in the database during 2017, 31% higher than the corresponding incidence in 1997.
Meanwhile, it suggested that the worldwide prevalence of AF is now just under 38m cases (0.51% of global population).
The highest burden is seen in countries with high socio-demographic index, though the largest recent increased occurred in middle socio-demographic index countries.
Future projections suggest that AF burden may increase by more than 60% in 2050.
In conclusion, the study team said: “Our analyses suggest that atrial fibrillation incidence and prevalence have increased over the last 20 years and will continue to increase over the next 30 years, especially in countries with middle socio-demographic index, becoming one of the largest epidemics and public health challenges.”
In a separate study in Circulation Research looking at the “Epidemiology of Atrial Fibrillation in the 21st Century”, the research team of Jelena Kornej, Christin S. Börschel, Emelia J. Benjamin and Renate B. Schnabel said: “Accompanying the aging of populations worldwide, and increased survival with chronic diseases, the incidence and prevalence of atrial fibrillation are rising, justifying the term global epidemic.”
Based on data from the FHS (Framingham Heart Study), the prevalence of AF increased three-fold over the last 50 years to around 46 million cases in 2016.
While other estimates suggest AF is present in 1-2% in the adult population, it could even be as high as 2%–3%, based on recent data.
There are also believed to be millions of people worldwide who may have undiagnosed AF. In the UK, for example, the British Heart Foundation suggests that as many as 300,000 people have AF but are not aware of it.
During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, attendance at health facilities fell as patients with existing conditions were forced to shield at home and isolate.
Others were reluctant to place any more burden on health systems already other tremendous pressure, or were fearful of attending hospital or their GP surgery because of worries about contracting coronavirus, further fuelling concerns about cases of undiagnosed AF.