Athletes Have an Increased Risk of Developing Atrial Fibrillation

Pavankumar Kamat


July 28, 2021


  • A meta-analysis found a significantly greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AF) in athletes compared with non-athletes.

  • Younger athletes were at an increased risk of AF compared with older athletes.

Why this matters

  • Future studies are warranted on the prevalence of AF in athletes based on specific exercise dose parameters, including training and competition history.

Study design

  • UK researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 13 observational studies (7 cohort; 6 case-control) including 70,478 participants (6816 athletes; 63,662 non-athletes).

  • Funding: None.

Key results

  • Athletes vs non-athletes had a greater risk of developing AF (OR, 2.46; 95% CI, 1.73-3.51; P<.001; I2, 84%).

  • A significant association was seen between the mode of exercise and risk of AF, with mixed vs endurance sport conferring a greater risk (P=.0204).

  • Younger athletes (age, <55 years) vs older athletes (age, ≥55 years) were significantly more likely to develop AF (P<.001).


  • Heterogeneity among studies.

  • Risk of residual confounding.


Newman W, Parry-Williams G, Wiles J, Edwards J, Hulbert S, Kipourou K, Papadakis M, Sharma R, O'Driscoll J. Risk of atrial fibrillation in athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2021 Jul 12 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-103994. PMID: 34253538.  View abstract 

This clinical summary originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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