New findings suggest that race or ethnic background is the primary factor in developing a common heart condition called atrial fibrillation.
University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers discovered that Caucasians are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than people of other races or ethnic groups, and that the condition is linked to genetic characteristics found in Caucasians of European descent.
“We found that consistently, every other race had a statistically significant lower risk of atrial fibrillation compared to whites,” said study author Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, FHRS, associate professor of medicine at the UCSF Division of Cardiology, in an October 8 press release.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, according to the press release, and can be described as involuntary fluttering or a racing heart beat, which can be life threatening and lead to stroke.
“Presumably there may be a gene, or a set of genes, in European ancestry … that increases the risk for atrial fibrillation,” Marcus said in the release. “Based on several analyses performed in the study, the risk is not related to existing cardiac conditions like high blood pressure or existing heart disease.”
UCSF researchers studied 14 million California hospital patients between 2005 and 2009. The patient pool included Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans, according to the release.
A past study concluded that African Americans were at lower risk for atrial fibrillation than Caucasians, despite having more risk factors for the condition.
“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 study author Thomas A. Dewland, MD, cardiac electrophysiology fellow at the UCSF Division of Cardiology, in the press release.
Atrial fibrillation contributes to more than 80,000 deaths annually and is considered an epidemic, according to a-fib.com.
UCSF researchers expect to conduct future studies based on current findings to accurately determine the reasons for the disparity between different ethnic groups as well as to predict and treat the abnormal heart rhythm.