Heart Health

13 June 2016

Irregular heartbeat may be deadly in car crash

A study found that people with atrial fibrillation have a higher death risk in the case of a car crash.

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Having the common heart rhythm disorder atrial fibrillation might be risky if you get into a car accident, a new study suggests.

Most common heart rhythm disorder

Atrial fibrillation is a quivering or irregular heartbeat. Researchers report the condition is linked to higher chances of dying if you're in a crash, although their study didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder, and incidence is rising. Many of these patients are on anticoagulants to lower their stroke risk, but these drugs increase the chance of bleeding," said study author Dr Abhishek Deshmukh, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Read: Irregular heartbeat after surgery ups stroke risk

However, "we should not jump the gun and advise patients with atrial fibrillation to stop driving. This was a retrospective observational study and needs to be confirmed by further research," he said in an European Society of Cardiology news release.

In the study, Deshmukh and his colleagues analysed data from nearly 3 million drivers, passengers and bystanders who were involved in a traffic crash and admitted to US hospitals between 2003 and 2012. Of those patients, 2.6 percent had atrial fibrillation.

Death rates were 7.6 percent for those with atrial fibrillation and 2.6 percent for those without the condition. After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, injury severity and existing health problems, the researchers still found crash victims with atrial fibrillation had a 1.5 times higher risk of dying in the hospital than those without the disorder.

Read: Eyes may indicate atrial fibrillation risk

Limited information

The researchers also found that the average hospital stay after a traffic crash was nine days for those with atrial fibrillation and only six days for those without the condition. The average cost of hospital stay was $28,217 (± R425,000) for those with atrial fibrillation, and $19,615 (± R304,000) for those without.

"There is limited information about the impact of atrial fibrillation on daily activities such as driving. This is the first study to investigate the effect of atrial fibrillation on death and length of hospital stay after a motor vehicle accident," Deshmukh said.

Read: Irregular heartbeat doubles risk for 'silent' strokes

"Atrial fibrillation is associated with higher mortality, length of stay and cost when patients are hospitalised for bypass surgery, hip replacement or heart failure. Our research shows that atrial fibrillation is also associated with worse outcomes in patients involved in motor vehicle accidents," Deshmukh said.

The study was to be presented at a cardiology meeting in Nice, France. Research presented at medical meetings is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Read more:

Heart attack

Heart-valve disease

Arrhythmia

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