The Gout, Atrial Fibrillation Connection

Sometimes it’s a bit of a surprise how two health conditions that seem unrelated actually can be connected. As has been shown in a new study, that’s the case with gout and atrial fibrillation (a rapid and irregular heart beat).

The researchers, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, knew that both gout and atrial fibrillation are associated with inflammation, so they wondered if there might be some connection. Also, they were intrigued by recent studies suggesting there might be an increased risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) in people with high levels of uric acid in the blood, which is characteristic of gout patients.

To look further into these issues, they collected data taken from a large commercial health plan for the years 2004 through 2013. They divided the patients into two comparison groups. The first group had more than 70,000 people with gout and more than 200,000 people with osteoarthritis. The researchers included patients with arthritis because they shared similar characteristics with those with gout, such as their health-care usage, a tendency toward obesity, and what are known as “comorbidities” (that is, associated health issues such as high blood pressure). The second comparison group included more than 90,000 people with gout and about 275,000 people without it. These two groups, however, were matched by age, gender, and the date of diagnosis. The follow-up time for both comparison groups was two years.

The researchers determined that people with gout have a 13% to 21% increased risk of atrial fibrillation. This risk was assessed as “modest,” but it was not insignificant.

Seoyoung C. Kim, the lead researcher of the project, said gout might raise the risk of atrial fibrillation because of “complex interrelated mechanisms” of inflammation and high levels of uric acid in the blood. She also said the findings “have important implications for future studies aimed at reducing the risk of atrial fibrillation,” noting the potential for drug therapy to be an effective way of lowering that risk.

Want to learn more about gout? Read “Gout: Understood But Undertreated” and “The Good News and Bad News on Gout.”

Joseph Gustaitis is a freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area.

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