Damage to the blood vessels
of the eyes or kidneys might help identify people who are at raised risk for a
common type of heart-rhythm disorder, a new study suggests.
The disorder, called atrial
fibrillation, is common in older people and increases the risk of stroke. It
also can trigger heart-related chest pain or heart failure in some patients,
the researchers said.
In the new study, which is
scheduled for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Heart
Association in Dallas, researchers followed more than 10 000 middle-aged people
for an average of almost 14 years.
Researchers led by Sunil
Agarwal, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found that micro vascular
changes – trouble in the smaller vessels of the eyes or kidneys – appeared to
be linked to the presence of atrial fibrillation.
For example, while about
six out of every 1000 people with no micro vascular disease developed the
heart-rhythm disorder, that figure rose to about nine out of every 1000 for
people with micro-bleeds or micro-aneurysms in the smaller vessels of the eye's
retina, the researchers said.
That number rose to almost
17 per 1000 people for those with signs of vessel damage in the kidneys. It increased
to more than 24 per 1000 in people who had vessel damage in both the eyes and
kidneys, the study found.
Why this vessel damage
appears to be tied to a higher risk for atrial fibrillation remains unclear,
the researchers said.
One expert not connected to
the study theorised that small-vessel damage might be an underlying cause of
"This [study] suggests
that a potential trigger for developing atrial fibrillation may be worsening micro
vascular disease," said Dr Neil Sanghvi, an electro physiologist at Lenox
Hill Hospital in New York City. "Therefore, treatments that are able to
minimise or prevent micro vascular damage may be able to decrease the incidence
of atria fibrillation."
Dr Kenneth Ong is interim
chief of cardiology at the Brooklyn Hospital Centre in New York City.
"Damage to the vessels in the eyes and kidneys are thought to reflect
similar findings in the rest of the body, including the heart," he said.
He added that it's
"reasonable to speculate" that patients with such damage might be at
higher risk for heart disease.
Sanghvi said patients who
have vessel damage in the eyes or kidneys "should consider long-term
monitoring, on the order of one or two weeks," to gauge their risk for
undetected atrial fibrillation.
The US National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atrial