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    Hospitalization Rates Soar for Irregular Heartbeat, Study Finds

    Atrial fibrillation can lead to dangerous heart complications

    continued...

    Using hospital data, the researchers predict that 541,000 hospitalizations will occur in 2020 because of atrial fibrillation -- 28 percent more than occurred in 2010. "It is increasing exponentially over time," Pant said.

    They also ran estimates of the cost of these hospitalizations, concluding that each individual case will cost a little more than $40,000 by 2020. That's a 55 percent increase from 2010.

    "It's a very costly disease, and it's going to be even more so in the future," Pant said.

    Treatments are available for atrial fibrillation, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and include the following:

    • Medications that return the heart to a normal rhythm
    • Medications that slow the heart rate
    • Low-level electrical shocks to jolt the heart back to a normal rhythm
    • Ablation therapy, in which radio-wave energy or intense cold is used to destroy abnormal heart tissue causing the problem
    • A pacemaker that will help maintain a normal heart rhythm

    But prevention likely will be the key to keeping people out of the hospital, Pant said. And this will require teamwork among health professionals and patients.

    "We think a collaborative care approach in which a physician works with specialists, with active patient participation, in risk factor management is really needed to reduce those hospitalizations," he said.

    People at risk can exercise, adopt a healthy diet, cut back on their salt intake and reduce their stress. Physicians also can help by prescribing medications that lower blood pressure and manage cholesterol levels.

    "Controlling the risk factors is important," Pant said. "That's where the role of the primary care physician comes into play."

    Bauman agreed. "If we can begin to control [high blood pressure], obesity and other cardiovascular risk factors, then we might hope to slow that trend," she said.

    Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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