In Japan, data on the epidemiological and clinical features of atrial fibrillation (AF) are rather sparse; even less data are available on the risk of thromboembolism in nonvalvular AF. The present study enrolled 19,825 patients who visited the cardiovascular clinics of the 13 hospitals in Hokkaido, Japan, between March and July 1995. The prevalence of AF, the clinical characteristics of AF patients, and the occurrence of ischemic events were examined during the 2 year follow-up period. The prevalence of AF increased with age, and the overall prevalence was 14%. Antithrombotic therapy was used in 57% of AF patients and the incidence of ischemic events during the follow-up period was 4.6% in all AF patients. Warfarin reduced the risk of ischemic events in both the valvular and nonvalvular AF groups. A history of cerebrovascular accidents, advanced age, and the presence of underlying heart disease were each associated with a significantly increased risk of ischemic events in the nonvalvular AF group. These results show a lower incidence of ischemic events and more frequent use of antiplatelet drugs in the nonvalvular AF group. Further prospective studies are needed to determine the best preventive methods for thromboembolic complications in Japanese patients with nonvalvular AF.