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Family Member with Atrial Fibrillation Raises Individual Risk 40 Percent

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers have known that atrial fibrillation (AF) has a genetic component, but results from cohorts of the Framingham Heart Study shows a 40 percent increased risk of the irregular heart rhythm from having a first relative diagnosed with AF.

The study revealed having a mother, father or sibling with atrial fibrillation raises the chances that 1 to 5 family member will also develop atrial fibrillation.

Atrial Fibrillation runs in Families even when Considering other Risks

The investigators found that atrial fibrillation runs in families even after controlling for other risk factors, including 4 known gene variants and conventional risk factors for atrial fibrillation, that include age, coronary heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, congestive heart failure and structural heart defects.

The authors write, "Assessment of familial AF enhanced risk prediction slightly beyond traditional risk factors, particularly when familial AF occurred prematurely”, referring to age 65 or younger.

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Scientists knew atrial fibrillation was heritable, but not the degree of risk for developing AF in close relatives. From 1968 to 2007, 440 participants among 11,971 developed atrial fibrillation at 8-year follow up. Dr Steven A Lubitz who led the research looked at 4421 of the original participants and their offspring who were at least 30 years of age and free from AF at the study start and who also had one family member enrolled in the study.

The results also showed younger onset of atrial fibrillation in a family member raised the chances even further that another family member would have an occurrence, as did having a sibling with AF.

The findings make it important for physicians to ask about family history of atrial fibrillation. According to senior author Dr Emelia J Benjamin, “…you'd want them to know if they have palpitations, if their heart is racing or irregular, it's probably a good idea to have it checked out by a doctor—because for some people, the first manifestation of atrial fibrillation is when they have a stroke or heart failure."

Dr. Benjamin says the findings from the Framingham cohort study that atrial fibrillation in a close family member raises the chances one’s individual risk for having the irregular heart beat highlights the importance of updating family history “as part of routine healthcare maintenance”