WISMAR, GERMANY. It is by now generally accepted that the incidence and prevalence of
atrial fibrillation (AF) is growing rapidly. A group of researchers from various German
universities report that as many as 4.4% of men and 3.9% of women can expect to develop
new-onset AF within any given year. Their study involved 8.3 million Germans whose health
insurance data (doctor’s visits and hospital admissions) were examined for the years 2007
and 2008. Those diagnosed with AF were generally unhealthy with 87% having hypertension,
62% having heart failure or vascular disease, and 43% having diabetes – obviously not
lone afibbers! Study participants were considered to have developed new-onset AF in 2008 if
The overall prevalence (number of people having AF in 2008) was 176,891 or 2.13% of the entire
8.3 million people involved in the study. Both incidence and prevalence of AF were found to
increase sharply with age.
The overall prevalence (number of people having AF in 2008) was 176,891 or 2.13% of the entire 8.3 million people involved in the study. Both incidence and prevalence of AF were found to increase sharply with age.
(2) Total new cases of AF diagnosed per year in each age group
It is clear from the study that women are substantially less affected by
AF than are men and that the incidence (new diagnoses) increases sharply
after age 65 for both genders. Based on their data, the researchers estimate
that 1.8 million Germans were living with AF in 2009 including 363,000 newly
diagnosed that year. They also predict that the number of AF patients in Germany
will increase to 2.1 million by 2020 including 426,000 newly diagnosed cases. They
conclude that, “in a large industrial nation such as Germany care provision
structures are going to be challenged by a requirement to treat more AF patients
in the future”.
Editor’s comment: The German figures for prevalence (2.1%) and incidence (4.1%) are substantially higher than corresponding numbers reported in a 2008 study in Iceland (1.9% and 2.4%) and considerably higher than those reported in the United States (1% and 1%). It is interesting that, by far, the majority of new-onset AF occurred after the age of 65 in the German study. In contrast, only 7% of the 250 participants in our LAF Survey 14 were diagnosed after the age of 65 years. This adds to the evidence that lone AF is quite a different condition than AF with underlying heart disease. It also clearly shows that an aging population is not a significant driver of the lone AF epidemic.