Atrial ectopy as a mediator of the association between race and atrial fibrillation

Heart Rhythm. 2017 Dec;14(12):1856-1861. doi: 10.1016/j.hrthm.2017.09.034. Epub 2017 Oct 27.


Background: Blacks have a lower risk of atrial fibrillation (AF) despite having more AF risk factors, but the mechanism remains unknown. Premature atrial contraction (PAC) burden is a recently identified risk factor for AF.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine whether the burden of PACs explains racial differences in AF risk.

Methods: PAC burden (number per hour) was assessed by 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring in a randomly selected subset of patients in the Cardiovascular Health Study. Participants were followed prospectively for the development of AF, diagnosed by study ECG and hospital admission records.

Results: Among 938 participants (median age 73 years; 34% black; 58% female), 206 (22%) developed AF over a median follow-up of 11.0 years (interquartile range 6.1-13.4). After adjusting for age, sex, body mass index, coronary disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, hypertension, alcohol consumption, smoking status, and study site, black race was associated with a 42% lower risk of AF (hazard ratio 0.58, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.40-0.85; P = .005). The baseline PAC burden was 2.10 times (95% CI 1.57-2.83; P <.001) higher in whites than blacks. There was no detectable difference in premature ventricular contraction (PVC) burden by race. PAC burden mediated 19.5% (95% CI 6.3-52.5) of the adjusted association between race and AF.

Conclusion: On average, whites exhibited more PACs than blacks, and this difference statistically explains a modest proportion of the differential risk of AF by race. The differential PAC burden, without differences in PVCs, by race suggests that identifiable common exposures or genetic influences might be important to atrial pathophysiology.

Keywords: Arrhythmia; Atrial fibrillation; Atrial premature beat; Premature atrial contraction; Race.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atrial Fibrillation / complications*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / ethnology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / physiopathology
  • Atrial Premature Complexes / ethnology
  • Atrial Premature Complexes / etiology*
  • Atrial Premature Complexes / physiopathology
  • Electrocardiography, Ambulatory / methods*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Atria / physiopathology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology