MONDAY, Dec. 2, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- A widely used type of heart monitor may provide a simple way to predict a person's risk for a common heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, according to a new study.
Researchers found that people who have a greater number of heart contractions called premature atrial contractions have a substantially higher risk for atrial fibrillation. These types of contractions can be detected by a 24-hour Holter monitor.
Premature atrial contractions are premature heartbeats that occur in the two upper chambers of the heart. A Holter monitor is a portable device that continuously monitors the electrical activity of a person's heart.
The study included 1,260 people, aged 65 and older, who had not been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and underwent 24-hour Holter monitoring. Those with a higher number of premature atrial contractions had an 18 percent increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation, according to the findings, published in the Dec. 3 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Atrial fibrillation can increase the risk of heart failure or stroke, but people with the disorder may not show symptoms, the researchers noted.
"Because premature atrial contractions may themselves have a causal relationship with atrial fibrillation, it is theoretically possible that their eradication, such as through drugs or [other procedures], could actually modify atrial fibrillation risk," study senior author Dr. Gregory Marcus, an associate professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a university news release.
Currently, doctors use a complex prediction model based on body size and other factors plus data from electrocardiograms to calculate risk for atrial fibrillation. When the researchers compared their technique with the established process, they found that it "was as good as or better" at predicting atrial fibrillation.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atrial fibrillation.