Scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine found that people who develop an abnormal heart rhythm after surgery have an increased risk of heart failure.
The research is published in the European Heart Journal and was conducted by Dr. Parag Goyal et al.
An abnormal, often rapid heart rhythm is known as atrial fibrillation (AF).
They showed that the risk of hospitalization for heart failure among patients who developed AF after surgery increased regardless of whether or not the surgery was for a heart condition.
Among 76,536 patients who underwent heart surgery, 14,365 (18.8%) developed postoperative AF.
The team found the risk of hospitalization for heart failure increased by a third compared to patients who did not develop AF.
Among 2,929,854 patients without a history of heart disease who had surgery for non-heart-related conditions, 23,763 (0.8%) developed AF, and the risk of hospitalization for heart failure doubled.
These findings showed that post-operative atrial fibrillation is associated with future heart failure hospitalizations.
This could mean that atrial fibrillation is an important indicator of underlying but not yet detected heart failure, or it could mean that atrial fibrillation itself contributes to the future development of heart failure.
Regardless of the mechanism, the study showed that postoperative atrial fibrillation is clearly an important entity that merits attention and incorporation into decision-making.
Most importantly, patients and doctors need to be more vigilant about heart failure symptoms among patients who develop post-operative atrial fibrillation.
Those who do develop the condition may require more aggressive treatments for other risk factors for heart failure, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and narrowing of the arteries.
Post-operative AF occurs in up to 40% of patients undergoing heart surgery and 2% of patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery. Doctors have tended to view it as a benign event, triggered by the stress of the surgery.
However, evidence is emerging that post-operative AF is linked to longer-term problems such as stroke and death from any cause, although, until now, there has been limited evidence regarding its association with subsequent heart failure.
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