More than 14 million European adults aged 65 and up will have developed atrial fibrillation by 2060, according to a paper published June 6 in EP Europace.
The European Society of Cardiology reports atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder in Europe, accounting for between 0.28% and 2.6% of EU countries’ healthcare spending. The arrhythmia raises individuals’ risk of stroke by up to five times and is the culprit behind 20% to 30% of strokes in the European Union.
Funded by the Italian Ministry of Health, National Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Antonio Di Carlo of the Italian National Research Council and colleagues estimated some 7.6 million EU residents over age 65 had AFib in 2016—a number that’s expected to increase by 89% to 14.4 million by 2060.
Di Carlo and his team reached their conclusion after first measuring a representative sample of over-65s in Italy, then applying population projections from the statistical office of the EU (known as Eurostat) to all 28 member states. They estimated the prevalence of AFib among older Europeans will rise by 22% between now and 2060, from 7.8% to 9.5% in 2060.
Patients over 80 years of age will likely be heavily affected by this shift, with Di Carlo et al. predicting the proportion of AFib patients over 80 will rise from 51% today to 65% by 2060.
“Atrial fibrillation patients over 80 have even greater risks of stroke, so this shift in demography has enormous implications for the EU,” Di Carlo said in a release. “Older patients also have more comorbidities linked to atrial fibrillation, such as heart failure and cognitive impairment.”
Di Carlo said that since most older Europeans see their GP at least once a year, physicians should incorporate AFib screening into regular office visits. Even performing a simple pulse palpation could flag patients at the highest risk, allowing physicians to order an electrocardiogram and move forward with treatment if they suspect AFib or another complication.
“This is an efficient and effective method to diagnose atrial fibrillation and prevent complications,” Di Carlo said. “I recommend this approach for now. In future there may be reliable devices for first-line screening by the public such as smartwatch apps, but these technologies are not ready for widespread use.”