Electrocardiographic findings in the elderly reflect both common cardiac diseases and physiologic ageing change. This cross-sectional population-based study explored the prevalence of various abnormalities in the electrocardiograms of active older people and those who are free from any cardiac pathology and determined their relationship to age and gender in a rural area of Thailand. Nine hundred and sixty three people aged 60 years or more were recruited. The electrocardiographic prevalence of ischemic heart disease, atrial fibrillation, left axis deviation and conduction defect were 5.5 per cent, 2.2 per cent, 2.5 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively. After excluding diseases potentially affecting the heart, the prevalence of atrial fibrillation, left axis deviation and conduction defect decreased to 1.3 per cent, 2.0 per cent and 2.2 per cent. The prevalence of atrial fibrillation and ischemic heart disease were significantly less (p = 0.015 and 0.003) in the 80+ year old group. Regarding gender difference, only left axis deviation was found significantly more frequently in older men with an odds ratio of 5.23 (95% confidence interval, 1.28-30.29) in those who were free from diseases potentially affecting the heart.
In conclusion: Atrial fibrillation should not be regarded as degenerative change, but the result of cardiac pathology instead. The most common electrocardiographic abnormality in normal older men was left axis deviation and was found consistently more often than in older women. Therefore, it is appropriate to investigate for any reversible causes of atrial fibrillation while it is not so for left axis deviation in older men.