THURSDAY, May 10, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Even though they have more risk factors, black Africans are about half as likely as white Europeans to develop a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, a new study says.
Atrial fibrillation, in which the top chambers of the heart flutter or quiver irregularly, sharply increases the risk of stroke and early death. Risk factors for atrial fibrillation include heart failure, diabetes, prior stroke and left ventricular hypertrophy (thickening of the heart's left ventricle).
The new study included 1,900 white European participants, as well as 89 Chinese, 105 Japanese and 73 black African subjects, all of whom had a pacemaker. After two and a half years of follow-up, the incidence of new-onset atrial fibrillation was 18 percent for white Europeans, 10.1 percent for Chinese participants, 8.5 percent for Japanese participants and 8.3 percent for black Africans.
The disparities remained even after the researchers adjusted for atrial fibrillation risk factors.
The study is to be presented Thursday at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in Boston.
"These findings have implications for underlying genetic differences and new targets to prevent [atrial fibrillation]," lead author Dr. Chu-Pak Lau, an honorary clinical professor in the department of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said in a society news release. "It opens a breadth of research opportunities to identify the cause of susceptibility, with a view to develop new drugs or targets for therapy."
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder in adults worldwide, affecting more than 9 million people in the United States and the European Union.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atrial fibrillation.