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Stroke. 2009 Apr;40(4):1204-11. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.108.534735. Epub 2009 Feb 12.

Ethnic distribution of ECG predictors of atrial fibrillation and its impact on understanding the ethnic distribution of ischemic stroke in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, Epidemiological Cardiology Research Center, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston Salem, NC 27104, USA.

Erratum in

  • Stroke. 2010 May;41(5):e433.



The paradox of the reported low prevalence of atrial fibrillation (AF) in blacks compared with whites despite higher stroke rates in the former could be related to limitations in the current methods used to diagnose AF in population-based studies. Hence, this study aimed to use the ethnic distribution of ECG predictors of AF as measures of AF propensity in different ethnic groups.


The distribution of baseline measures of P-wave terminal force, P-wave duration, P-wave area, and PR duration (referred to as AF predictors) were compared by ethnicity in 15 429 participants (27% black) from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study by unpaired t test, chi(2), and logistic-regression analysis, as appropriate. Cox proportional-hazards analysis was used to separately examine the association of AF predictors with incident AF and ischemic stroke.


Whereas AF was significantly less common in blacks compared with whites (0.24% vs 0.95%, P<0.0001), similar to what has been reported in previous studies, blacks had significantly higher and more abnormal values of AF predictors (P<0.0001 for all comparisons). Black ethnicity was significantly associated with abnormal AF predictors compared with whites; odds ratios for different AF predictors ranged from 2.1 to 3.1. AF predictors were significantly and independently associated with AF and ischemic stroke with no significant interaction between ethnicity and AF predictors, findings that further justify using AF predictors as an earlier indicator of future risk of AF and stroke.


There is a disconnect between the ethnic distribution of AF predictors and the ethnic distribution of AF, probably because the former, unlike the latter, do not suffer from low sensitivity. These results raise the possibility that blacks might actually have a higher prevalence of AF that might have been missed by previous studies owing to limited methodology, a difference that could partially explain the greater stroke risk in blacks.

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