Wake-up Call for Those with Kidney Disease

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Millions of Americans in the early stages of chronic kidney disease are at a higher risk of having atrial fibrillation (AF) and don’t know it, according to a new study. Researchers at Wake Forest University uncovered this link between kidney disease and AF — a major risk factor for stroke — and believe it to be concerning.

In the medical community, it’s known that patients with end-stage kidney failure have high rates of AF. But new findings show that patients in early stages of kidney disease experience similar rates of AF. This means that millions of Americans, who have a long time left to live, are faced with this dangerous condition when it was previously thought that they were at low risk.

The study was recently published in the “American Heart Journal.”

AF is the most common sustained arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) in society, and is one of the strongest risk factors for stroke. Approximately one to eight percent of the general population develops AF, but those numbers spike to between 13% and 23% of those with end-stage kidney disease.

Thus far, researchers have looked at AF as it pertains to patients with end-stage kidney disease who are on dialysis. But there is less information on people newly diagnosed with the disease. The truth is that more than 25 million U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease and most are not on dialysis. Thus, figuring out any link with AF is a big public health concern for this sizable segment of the population.

In the study, nearly one in five participants with early kidney disease had evidence of AF. This rate is similar to those with end-stage kidney disease, and as much as three times greater than the AF rate in the general population. Researchers also found that risk factors for AF among kidney disease patients aren’t the same as the general population, thus more research is needed to uncover that link.

What’s clear is that whatever processes in the body that lead to AF happen early on in kidney disease patients. It means these patients need to understand this and that doctors need to monitor the situation closely.

People in the United States are living longer and getting older, and both AF and kidney disease are common in aging populations. Speak to your doctor or a local Heart Association office for information on preventing atrial fibrillation.