Racial differences in atrial fibrillation prevalence and left atrial size

Am J Med. 2010 Apr;123(4):375.e1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.05.019. Epub 2010 Mar 11.


Background: Previous studies relying on clinical care data have suggested that atrial fibrillation is less common in African Americans than Caucasians, but the mechanism remains unknown. Clinical care may itself vary by race, potentially affecting the accuracy of atrial fibrillation ascertainment in studies relying on clinical data. We sought to examine racial differences in atrial fibrillation prevalence determined by protocol-driven electrocardiograms (ECGs) obtained in prospective cohort studies and to study racial differences in echocardiographic characteristics.

Methods: We pooled primary data from 3 cohort studies with atrial fibrillation adjudicated from study protocol ECGs and documentation of potentially important confounders: the Heart and Soul Study (n=1014), the Heart and Estrogen-Progestin Replacement Study (n=2673), and The Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Sleep Study (n=2911). Left atrial anatomic dimensions were compared among races from sinus rhythm echocardiograms in the Heart and Soul Study.

Results: Of the 6611 participants, 268 (4%) had atrial fibrillation: Caucasians had the highest prevalence (5%), and African Americans had the lowest (1%; P<.001 for each compared with all other races). After adjustment for potential confounders, Caucasians had a 3.8-fold greater odds of having atrial fibrillation than African Americans (95% confidence interval, 1.6-8.8, P=.002). Although ventricular and atrial volumes and function were similar in Caucasians and African Americans, Caucasians had a 2 mm larger anterior-posterior left atrial diameter after adjusting for potential confounders (95% confidence interval, 1-3 mm, P<.001).

Conclusion: ECG confirmed atrial fibrillation is more common in Caucasians than in African Americans, which might be related to the larger left atrial diameter observed in Caucasians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atrial Fibrillation / genetics*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / pathology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Continental Population Groups*
  • Female
  • Heart Atria / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male