The chance of dying from a common heart rhythm disorder is higher for people treated at rural rather than urban hospitals, a new study finds.
The researchers analyzed data from hospitalizations for the heart ailment known as atrial fibrillation — or a-fib — in the United States between 2012 and 2014. A-fib can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other complications.
If untreated, a-fib doubles the risk for heart-related death and is associated with a five-fold increased risk for stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
The study found that people with a-fib who’d been admitted to rural hospitals were 17 percent more likely to die while hospitalized than were those admitted to urban hospitals.
The study, scheduled for publication Dec. 11 in the journal HeartRhythm, did not determine why this seems to be the case.
“Our findings will drive future research endeavors to uncover the reasons for this difference, and to develop strategies to improve the medical care for patients with this heart rhythm disturbance,” the lead researcher, Dr. Wesley O’Neal, said in a journal news release. He’s a cardiologist in Atlanta affiliated with the Emory University School of Medicine.
The study increases awareness about a potentially significant issue and also raises important questions, according to Dr. Thomas Deering and Dr. Ashish Bhimani, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. They are with the Arrhythmia Center at the Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta.
“The electrophysiology and medical communities should look at the findings presented in this study as a motivational call to initiate prospective studies with the goal of identifying gaps in a-fib care, which can then be used to create effective health care policies, designed to reduce a-fib-related mortality,” Deering and Bhimani wrote.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on atrial fibrillation.
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