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Atrial fibrillation risk climbs with stature

December 20, 2019

Person sitting on a beach art sunset making a heart shape with their hands

The taller you are the more likely you are to develop atrial fibrillation, according to a new study relying on genetic data from more than a million people. Every inch in height over 5 feet 7 inches translates into about a 3 percent increase in AFib risk, according to the Penn Medicine study.

AFib is an irregular, often rapid heartbeat that can lead to stroke, heart failure and other complications. As many as 6 million Americans have it.


Patient data suggests causation

The research is among the first to demonstrate that height may be a “causal, not correlated” risk factor for AFib, the university says. Observational studies examining population-level data have already found that taller individuals appear to have a higher risk of developing AFib, but questions have remained about causality.

The Penn team looked at data from studies of more than 700,000 individuals that identified genetic variants associated with height, and of more than 500,000 individuals that identified genetic variants associated with AFib.

The Penn team’s “analysis revealed that genetic variants associated with height were also strongly associated with AFib, suggesting that increased height may be a cause of atrial fibrillation,” says a Penn Medicine news release. “This relationship remained strong even after adjusting for traditional AFib risk factors, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, among others.”

Next, researchers conducted an “individual-level analysis” of nearly 7,000 individuals enrolled in the Penn Medicine Biobank and “found that height, and genetic variants associated with height, are strongly associated with an increased risk of AFib, independent from traditional clinical and echocardiographic risk factors.”

Data drives discovery

This surprising research dovetails with iSpecimen’s work to aggregate large volumes of de-identified patient and specimen data to glean new medical insights. iSpecimen has direct, electronic connections to a wide variety of de-identified data sources, including electronic medical record (EMR) systems, laboratory information systems (LIS), laboratory information management systems (LIMS), Health Information Exchange (HIE) records, and other patient records. These connections expand the data we can combine with each biospecimen and help eliminate human errors that occur when manually extracting information.

As we’ve mentioned before, specimens embody data. And large volumes of data can produce insights that observation alone cannot.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.

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