WEDNESDAY, July 24, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Former National Football League (NFL) players have an increased prevalence of atrial fibrillation (AF) and slowed cardiac conduction, according to a study published online July 24 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Philip Aagaard, M.D., Ph.D., from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study to compare the prevalence of AF among 460 former NFL athletes to the prevalence among 925 population-based controls of similar age and racial composition from the cardiovascular cohort Dallas Heart Study-2.

The researchers found that AF was present in 28 individuals, including 23 former NFL athletes (5 percent) and five people in the control group (0.5 percent). Former NFL participation remained associated with increased odds of AF (odds ratio, 5.7) after controlling for other cardiovascular risk factors in multivariable regression analysis. Independent associations were seen for older age, higher body mass index, and nonblack race with increased odds of AF, while no correlations were seen for hypertension and diabetes. In 15 of the 23 former NFL players, AF was previously undiagnosed; previously undiagnosed NFL players were asymptomatic and rate-controlled, but 80 percent had a CHA2DS2-VASc score ≥1. Compared with controls, former NFL players also had an eightfold higher prevalence of paced cardiac rhythms (2 versus 0.25 percent).

“Former participation in the NFL was associated with an increased prevalence of AF and slowed cardiac conduction compared with a population-based control group,” the authors write.

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