African Americans Experience Lower Incidence of Post-Op AF Despite Risk Factors

May 13, 2010

DENVER, May 13, 2010 – African Americans have a significantly lower incidence of postoperative atrial fibrillation (AF) compared to Caucasians despite a higher prevalence of risk factors for this specific type of arrhythmia. According to a new study presented today at Heart Rhythm 2010, the Heart Rhythm Society’s 31st Annual Scientific Sessions, Caucasians are 60 percent more likely than African Americans to develop AF following heart surgery.

In the United States, more than 2 million people are living with AF, making it one of the most common heart rhythm disorders. Risk factors currently known to be associated with AF include gender, age, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; however, race has not been considered a risk factor, but recent studies have shown a correlation.

The study examined adult patients, without prior AF, who underwent Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) surgery at Henry Ford Health System between 2004 and 2008. A total of 1,001 patients were identified for the study – 731 Caucasians and 270 African Americans. Prior to surgery, patients were measured for high risk factors including age, congestive heart failure, hypertension and diabetes.

Study results show African American patients have a higher prevalence of risk factors associated with AF compared to Caucasian patients, including congestive heart failure, hypertension and diabetes. However, despite the significantly higher presence of risk factors in African Americans, only 18 percent of the African American patients developed postoperative CABG AF compared to 29 percent of Caucasian patients. Further studies are needed to determine the underlying factors that protect African Americans from developing postoperative AF.

“Based on our study results, it seems viable for clinicians to consider race as an important factor in the likelihood of patients developing postoperative AF,” stated Marc K. Lahiri, MD, Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Mich. “Since it appears that Caucasians are at an increased risk of developing postoperative AF, clinicians may want to use this information in deciding when to take measures to prevent its occurrence, such as using antiarrhythmic medications at the time of surgery.”

About the Heart Rhythm Society

The Heart Rhythm Society is the international leader in science, education, and advocacy for cardiac arrhythmia professionals and patients, and the primary information resource on heart rhythm disorders. Its mission is to improve the care of patients by promoting research, education, and optimal health care policies and standards. Incorporated in 1979 and based in Washington, DC, it has a membership of more than 6,000 heart rhythm professionals in more than 72 countries around the world. For more information, visit