The prevalence of atrial fibrillation - the most common sustained cardiac arrhythmia - in Australians aged 55 years and older, is predicted to rise to "epidemic proportions" of almost 6.5% by the year 2034, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Researchers from the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research in Melbourne used international AF prevalence statistics to analyse Australian adult population data to estimate the prevalence of AF in June 2014, and to predict it for 2034.
They estimated that on 30 June 2014 there would be 328 562 cases of AF among people aged 55 or older, a prevalence of 5.35%.
"Without significant changes to the natural history of AF, by 2034 this figure is projected to rise to over 600 000 (prevalence, 6.39%)", the researchers wrote.
Men will be more affected, with a 2034 prevalence predicted of 7.22% versus 5.64% in women. "The greatest projected regional increase in prevalence between 2014 and 2034 is expected in Queensland, with a likely twofold increase, although NSW cases will remain predominant, with a 1.7-fold increase", the researchers wrote.
Economically, the increased AF burden will be a significant drag on Australian health care resources, they concluded.
"Within an ageing population, most costs will be driven by the need to manage stroke risk (via thromboprophylaxsis), prevent cardiac dysfunction and manage patients after events secondary to AF (via hospitalisation, provision of therapy and increased surveillance)", they wrote.
"[Our data] support the expectation that AF will reach epidemic proportions worldwide in the coming decades.
"The increasing prevalence of AF will greatly influence health care systems and communities. Therefore, substantial integrated efforts to understand the complex causes and clinical presentation of AF in Australia are required to attenuate the large economic, social and individual costs associated with this potentially fatal cardiac condition."