LOS ANGELES — It turns out that the shape of your heart matters when it comes to predicting risk of atrial fibrillation and heart muscle disease, researchers from Cedars-Sinai shows. People with round hearts are more at risk than those with other shapes.
Atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as AFib, describes having an irregular heartbeat. Having this greatly increases stroke risk, and projections show that over 12 million Americans will deal with this problem by 2030. Cardiomyopathy, a condition that makes it harder for the heart to pump and support the needs of the body, impacts one in every 500 adults.
In this study, researchers analyzed the MRI heart images of 38,897 healthy individuals from the UK Biobank. They also used computational models to detect genetic markers that could have an association with the two conditions.
“We found that individuals with spherical hearts were 31% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation and 24% more likely to develop cardiomyopathy, a type of heart muscle disease,” says David Ouyang, MD a cardiologist in the Smidt Heart Institute and a researcher in the Division of Artificial Intelligence in Medicine, in a media release.
“By looking at the genetics of sphericity, we found four genes associated with cardiomyopathy: PLN, ANGPT1, PDZRN3, and HLA DR/DQ,” adds Ouyang. “The first three of these genes were also associated with a greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation.”
Cardiologists from Cedars-Sinai explain that heart shape may be a really critical piece to the puzzle, because it changes over time. In particular, the heart becomes rounder, especially after a major event like a heart attack.
“A change in the heart’s shape may be a first sign of disease,” says study author Christine M. Albert, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute. “Understanding how a heart changes when faced with illness—coupled with now having more reliable and intuitive imaging to support this knowledge—is a critical step in prevention for two life-altering diseases.”
Ouyang stresses that these findings support the need for more studies of similar design. It also shows the potential of cardiac imaging to improve patient care, enhancing diagnosis and prevention efforts for all sorts of conditions.