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Effect of Falls on Frequency of Atrial Fibrillation and Mortality Risk (from the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke Study)

      It is unclear if patients who have atrial fibrillation (AF) have a greater fall risk compared with those in the general population and if falls increase mortality beyond that observed in AF. A total of 24,117 (mean age 65 ± 9.3 years; 55% women; 38% black) participants from the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study were included. AF was identified from baseline electrocardiogram data and by self-reported history. Falls were considered present if participants reported ≥2 falls within the year before the baseline examination. Logistic regression was used to examine the relationship between prevalent AF and falls. Cox regression was used to examine the risk of death in those with AF and falls, separately and in combination, compared with those without either condition. A total of 2,007 participants (8.3%) had baseline AF and 1,655 (6.7%) reported falls. A higher prevalence of falls was reported in those with AF (n = 209; 10%) than those without AF (n = 1,446; 6.5%; p <0.0001). After adjustment for fall risk factors, AF was significantly associated with falls (odds ratio 1.22, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.04 to 1.44). Compared with no history of AF or falls, the concomitant presence of AF and falls (hazard ratio [HR] 2.12, 95% CI 1.64 to 2.74) was associated with a greater risk of death than AF (HR 1.44, 95% CI 1.28 to 1.62) or falls (HR 1.61, 95% CI 1.42 to 1.82). In conclusion, patients with AF are more likely to report a history of falls in REGARDS. Additionally, participants with AF who report falls have an increased risk of death than those with either condition in isolation.
      Atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common sustained arrhythmia encountered in clinical practice, disproportionately affects older adults with a prevalence reaching 9% in this population.
      • Go A.S.
      • Hylek E.M.
      • Phillips K.A.
      • Chang Y.
      • Henault L.E.
      • Selby J.V.
      • Singer D.E.
      Prevalence of diagnosed atrial fibrillation in adults: national implications for rhythm management and stroke prevention: the AnTicoagulation and Risk Factors in Atrial Fibrillation (ATRIA) Study.
      • Feinberg W.M.
      • Blackshear J.L.
      • Laupacis A.
      • Kronmal R.
      • Hart R.G.
      Prevalence, age distribution, and gender of patients with atrial fibrillation. Analysis and implications.
      Similarly, falls represent a significant burden to the elderly with an estimated 15.9% of adults aged ≥65 years reporting a recent fall.
      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
      Self-reported falls and fall-related injuries among persons aged ≥65 years—United States, 2006.
      Exercise tolerance is decreased in patients with AF compared with those who maintain normal sinus rhythm.
      • Hohnloser S.H.
      • Kuck K.H.
      • Lilienthal J.
      Rhythm or rate control in atrial fibrillation–Pharmacological Intervention in Atrial Fibrillation (PIAF): a randomised trial.
      • Singh S.N.
      • Tang X.C.
      • Singh B.N.
      • Dorian P.
      • Reda D.J.
      • Harris C.L.
      • Fletcher R.D.
      • Sharma S.C.
      • Atwood J.E.
      • Jacobson A.K.
      • Lewis Jr., H.D.
      • Lopez B.
      • Raisch D.W.
      • Ezekowitz M.D.
      SAFE-T Investigators
      Quality of life and exercise performance in patients in sinus rhythm versus persistent atrial fibrillation: a Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program Substudy.
      • Atwood J.E.
      • Myers J.N.
      • Tang X.C.
      • Reda D.J.
      • Singh S.N.
      • Singh B.N.
      Exercise capacity in atrial fibrillation: a substudy of the Sotalol-Amiodarone Atrial Fibrillation Efficacy Trial (SAFE-T).
      Decreased exercise tolerance in AF potentially predisposes to conditions associated with falls, such as impaired mobility and decreased muscle strength.
      • Tinetti M.E.
      • Kumar C.
      The patient who falls: “It's always a trade-off”.
      This would suggest that AF possibly is associated with an increased fall risk, but this hypothesis has not been explored. Additionally, those with AF who fall possibly represent a population more likely to experience adverse outcomes and a greater mortality risk. Therefore, the purpose of this analysis was to examine the cross-sectional association between AF and falls in the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stoke (REGARDS) study and also to determine whether the combination of AF and falls is associated with a greater mortality risk compared with either condition in isolation.

      Methods

      Details of REGARDS have been published previously.
      • Howard V.J.
      • Cushman M.
      • Pulley L.
      • Gomez C.R.
      • Go R.C.
      • Prineas R.J.
      • Graham A.
      • Moy C.S.
      • Howard G.
      The reasons for geographic and racial differences in stroke study: objectives and design.
      Briefly, REGARDS was designed to identify causes of regional and racial disparities in stroke mortality. The study population over sampled blacks and persons residing in the stroke belt (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana) from January 2003 to October 2007. A total of 30,239 participants were recruited from a commercially available list of residents using postal mailings and telephone data. Demographic information and medical histories were obtained using a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) system that was conducted by trained interviewers. Additionally, a brief in-home physical examination was performed 3 to 4 weeks after the telephone interview. During the in-home visit, trained staff collected information regarding medications, blood and urine samples, and a resting electrocardiogram.
      For the purpose of this analysis, participants were excluded with data anomalies (n = 56), missing follow-up data (n = 490), missing AF data (n = 691), and missing baseline characteristics (n = 4,885). A total of 24,117 (mean age 65 ± 9.3 years; 55% women; 38% black) participants were included in the final analysis.
      Fall history was self-reported during the CATI surveys. Consistent with recent guidelines, subjects were classified as having a positive fall history if they reported ≥2 falls within the year before the CATI survey.
      Panel on Prevention of Falls in Older Persons, American Geriatrics Society and British Geriatrics Society
      Summary of the Updated American Geriatrics Society/British Geriatrics Society clinical practice guideline for prevention of falls in older persons.
      AF was identified in study participants from baseline electrocardiogram data and also by self-reported history of a physician diagnosis during the CATI surveys. The electrocardiograms were read and coded at a central reading center (Epidemiological Cardiology Research Center, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina) by electrocardiographers who were blind to other REGARDS data. Self-reported AF was defined as an affirmative response to the following question: “Has a physician or a health professional ever told you that you had atrial fibrillation?”
      • Soliman E.Z.
      • Howard G.
      • Meschia J.F.
      • Cushman M.
      • Muntner P.
      • Pullicino P.M.
      • McClure L.A.
      • Judd S.
      • Howard V.J.
      Self-reported atrial fibrillation and risk of stroke in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study.
      All-cause mortality was assessed by semiannual telephone follow-up and contact with proxies provided by the participant on recruitment. Subsequently, the date of death was confirmed through linkage with the Social Security and National Death Index or by death certificates. Mortality data were complete through March 31, 2014.
      Age, gender, race, income, education, exercise habits, alcohol use, and smoking status were self-reported. Annual household income was dichotomized at $20,000. Education was categorized into “high school or less” or “some college or more.” Cognition was assessed over the telephone using the 6-item screener, which evaluates global cognitive function.
      • Callahan C.M.
      • Unverzagt F.W.
      • Hui S.L.
      • Perkins A.J.
      • Hendrie H.C.
      Six-item screener to identify cognitive impairment among potential subjects for clinical research.
      Scores range from 0 to 6, with lower scores indicating worse cognition, and cognitive impairment was defined as a score ≤4. The presence of depressive symptoms was defined as a score of ≥4 on the 4-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale.
      • Fava G.A.
      • Pilowsky I.
      • Pierfederici A.
      • Bernardi M.
      • Pathak D.
      Depressive symptoms and abnormal illness behavior in general hospital patients.
      Impaired mobility was assessed using the physical functioning scale of the Short-Form 12-Item Health Survey.
      • Ware Jr., J.
      • Kosinski M.
      • Keller S.D.
      A 12-Item Short-Form Health Survey: construction of scales and preliminary tests of reliability and validity.
      Low scores are typical of someone who experiences many limitations in physical activities, including bathing or dressing, whereas high scores represent someone who is able to perform these types of activities without limitations. Scores below the age- and sex-specific twenty-fifth percentile were used to define impaired mobility.
      • Hanmer J.
      • Lawrence W.F.
      • Anderson J.P.
      • Kaplan R.M.
      • Fryback D.G.
      Report of nationally representative values for the noninstitutionalized US adult population for 7 health-related quality-of-life scores.
      Exercise was dichotomized at ≥4 times per week and <4 times per week. Smoking was defined as ever (e.g., current and former) or never smoker. Alcohol use was classified by the number of drinks per week using the following criteria: none, moderate (1 to 2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women), and heavy (>2 drinks/day for men and >1 drink/day for women). Fasting blood samples were obtained and assayed for serum glucose, total cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Diabetes was defined as a fasting glucose level ≥126 mg/dl (or a nonfasting glucose ≥200 mg/dl in those failing to fast) or self-reported diabetes medication use. The current use of aspirin and antihypertensive medications was self-reported. The use of warfarin and benzodiazepines was ascertained during the in-home visit by pill bottle review. After the participant rested for 5 minutes in a seated position, blood pressure was measured using a sphygmomanometer. Two values were obtained following a standardized protocol and averaged. Using baseline electrocardiogram data, left ventricular hypertrophy was defined by the Sokolow–Lyon Criteria.
      • Sokolow M.
      • Lyon T.P.
      The ventricular complex in left ventricular hypertrophy as obtained by unipolar precordial and limb leads.
      Coronary heart disease was ascertained by self-reported history of myocardial infarction, coronary artery bypass grafting, coronary angioplasty or stenting, or if evidence of previous myocardial infarction was present on the baseline electrocardiogram. Baseline stroke was ascertained by participant self-reported history. Cardiovascular disease was the composite of baseline coronary heart disease and stroke.
      Categorical variables were reported as frequency and percentage, whereas continuous variables were reported as mean ± standard deviation. Statistical significance for categorical variables was tested using the chi-square method and the Wilcoxon rank sum procedure for continuous variables. Logistic regression was used to compute odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for the association between AF and fall history at baseline. Multivariate models were adjusted for factors known to influence falls: Model 1 included age, sex, and race; Model 2 included Model 1 covariates plus body mass index, cognitive impairment, mobility impairment, alcohol consumption, exercise habits, diabetes, antihypertensive medications, and benzodiazepine use.
      • Tinetti M.E.
      • Kumar C.
      The patient who falls: “It's always a trade-off”.
      Subgroup analyses were performed by age (dichotomized at 65 years), sex (male vs female), race (black vs white), cognitive impairment, mobility impairment, and benzodiazepine use using a stratification technique and comparing models with and without interaction terms. We also examined the associations between falls, AF, and all-cause mortality using the following groups: no AF + no falls (reference group), no AF + falls, AF + no falls, and AF + falls. Incidence rates per 1,000 person-years were calculated for each group. Kaplan–Meier estimates were used to compute the survival probability for each category and the differences in estimates were compared using the log-rank procedure.
      • Gray R.J.
      • Tsiatis A.A.
      A linear rank test for use when the main interest is in differences in cure rates.
      Follow-up time was defined as the time from the in-home visit until death, loss to follow-up, or the end of follow-up (March 31, 2014). Cox regression was used to compute hazard ratios (HR) and 95% CI for the association between the aforementioned categories and all-cause mortality. Multivariate models were adjusted using the following models: Model 1 adjusted for age, sex, race, education, income, and geographic region; Model 2 included covariates in Model 1 with the addition of systolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, body mass index, diabetes, antihypertensive medications, warfarin, lipid-lowering therapies, left ventricular hypertrophy, and cardiovascular disease. A sensitivity analysis was performed to determine if participants with AF and falls have an increased risk of mortality compared with those who have AF alone and also in those with falls alone. Statistical significance for all comparisons including interactions was defined as p <0.05. SAS version 9.3 (Cary, North Carolina) was used for all analyses.

      Results

      A total of 2,007 participants (8.3%) had AF and 1,655 (6.7%) reported falls at baseline. Falls were more likely to be reported in those with AF (n = 209; 10%) than those without AF (n = 1,446; 6.5%; p <0.0001). Baseline characteristics by AF are shown in Table 1.
      Table 1Baseline characteristics (N=24,117)
      CharacteristicAtrial FibrillationP-value
      Statistical significance for categorical variables was tested using the chi-square method and for continuous variables the Wilcoxon rank sum was used.
      No

      (n=22,110)
      Yes

      (n=2,007)
      Age, mean (SD) (years)64 (9.3)68 (9.6)<0.0001
      Men10,013 (45%)943 (47%)0.14
      Black8,903 (40%)697 (35%)<0.0001
      Region
       Stroke buckle4,604 (21%)458 (23%)
       Stroke belt7,670 (35%)687 (34%)
       Non-belt9,836 (44%)862 (43%)0.10
      Education, high school or less8,138 (37%)836 (42%)<0.0001
      Annual income, <$20,0003,650 (17%)433 (22%)<0.0001
      Exercise, ≥4 times per week6,709 (30%)539 (27%)0.0011
      Alcohol use
       Heavy897 (4.1%)66 (3.3%)
       Moderate7,628 (35%)626 (31%)
       None13,585 (61%)1,315 (66%)0.0012
      Cognitive impairment1,279 (5.8%)126 (6.3%)0.37
      Depressive symptoms2,156 (9.8%)309 (15%)<0.0001
      Mobility impairment3,725 (17%)580 (29%)<0.0001
      Ever smoker11,860 (54%)1,169 (58%)<0.0001
      Diabetes4,421 (20%)502 (25%)<0.0001
      Systolic blood pressure, mean (SD) (mm Hg)127 (17)128 (18)0.020
      Body mass index, mean (SD) (kg/m2)29 (6.1)29 (6.4)0.49
      Total cholesterol, mean (SD) (mg/L)192 (40)185 (41)<0.0001
      HDL-cholesterol, mean (SD) (mg/L)52 (16)50 (16)<0.0001
      Aspirin9,489 (43%)1,032 (51%)<0.0001
      Antihypertensive medications11,414 (52%)1,322 (66%)<0.0001
      Lipid-lowering medications7,195 (33%)851 (42%)<0.0001
      Warfarin390 (1.8%)435 (22%)<0.0001
      Benzodiazepines1,078 (4.9%)167 (8.3%)<0.0001
      Left ventricular hypertrophy2,146 (9.7%)208 (10%)0.34
      Cardiovascular disease4,271 (19%)830 (41%)<0.0001
      HDL = high-density lipoprotein; SD = standard deviation.
      Statistical significance for categorical variables was tested using the chi-square method and for continuous variables the Wilcoxon rank sum was used.
      After adjustment for demographics and fall risk factors, AF was significantly associated with falls (Table 2). The association between AF and falls did not differ when stratified by age, gender, race, cognitive impairment, mobility impairment, and benzodiazepine use (Table 3).
      Table 2Association of atrial fibrillation with falls (N=24,117)
      Model 1
      Model 1 adjusted for age, sex, and race.


      OR (95%CI)
      P-valueModel 2
      Model 2 adjusted for Model 1 covariates with the addition of body mass index, cognitive impairment, mobility impairment, alcohol consumption, exercise habits, diabetes, antihypertensive medications, and benzodiazepine use.


      OR (95%CI)
      P-value
      No Atrial Fibrillation1.0-1.0-
      Atrial Fibrillation1.64 (1.40, 1.91)<0.00011.21 (1.03, 1.43)0.018
      CI = confidence interval; OR = odds ratio.
      Model 1 adjusted for age, sex, and race.
      Model 2 adjusted for Model 1 covariates with the addition of body mass index, cognitive impairment, mobility impairment, alcohol consumption, exercise habits, diabetes, antihypertensive medications, and benzodiazepine use.
      Table 3Subgroup analyses for the association of atrial fibrillation with falls (N=24,117)
      VariableModel 1
      Model 1 adjusted for age, sex, and race.


      OR (95%CI)
      P-valueModel 2
      Model 2 adjusted for Model 1 covariates with the addition of body mass index, cognitive impairment, mobility impairment, alcohol consumption, exercise habits, diabetes, antihypertensive medications, and benzodiazepine use.


      OR (95%CI)
      P-valueInteraction
      Interactions tested using Model 2.


      P-value
      Age (years)
       ≤651.85 (1.47, 2.32)<0.00011.22 (0.97, 1.57)0.0870.91
       >651.48 (1.20, 1.82)0.00031.20 (0.97, 1.49)0.10
      Sex
       Female1.72 (1.42, 2.08)<0.00011.24 (1.02, 1.52)0.0330.98
       Male1.51 (1.16, 1.95)0.00191.17 (0.90, 1.53)0.25
      Race
       Black1.81 (1.40, 2.34)<0.00011.29 (0.98, 1.69)0.0650.70
       White1.56 (1.28, 1.89)<0.00011.17 (0.96, 1.43)0.12
      Cognitive impairment
       No1.67 (1.42, 1.96)<0.00011.23 (1.04, 1.46)0.0140.53
       Yes1.34 (0.77, 2.35)0.300.99 (0.55, 1.79)0.98
      Mobility impairment
       No1.38 (1.11, 1.72)0.00451.26 (1.01, 1.58)0.0430.51
       Yes1.23 (0.98, 1.54)0.0731.17 (0.93, 1.46)0.19
      Depressive symptoms
       No1.52 (1.26, 1.82)<0.00011.20 (0.99, 1.45)0.0530.93
       Yes1.46 (1.09, 1.97)0.0121.25 (0.92, 1.69)0.16
      Benzodiazepine use
       No1.57 (1.33, 1.85)<0.00011.18 (0.99, 1.41)0.0560.61
       Yes1.63 (1.07, 2.48)0.0231.42 (0.92, 2.21)0.12
      CI = confidence interval; OR = odds ratio.
      Model 1 adjusted for age, sex, and race.
      Model 2 adjusted for Model 1 covariates with the addition of body mass index, cognitive impairment, mobility impairment, alcohol consumption, exercise habits, diabetes, antihypertensive medications, and benzodiazepine use.
      Interactions tested using Model 2.
      Over a median follow-up of 7.6 years, a total of 3,092 (13%) deaths occurred. A higher death rate was observed for those with AF + falls (51.2 per 1,000 person-years) compared with those with AF + no falls (34.4 per 1,000 person-years), no AF + falls (29.8 per 1,000 person-years), and those with no AF + no falls (15.6 per 1,000 person-years). The unadjusted survival curves are shown in Figure 1.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Figure 1Unadjusted survival by atrial fibrillation and falls. Kaplan–Meier estimates are statistically different (log-rank p <0.0001). AF = atrial fibrillation.
      In a Cox regression analysis adjusted for demographics, cardiovascular risk factors, and potential confounders, a greater risk of death was observed for those with AF + falls compared with either condition in isolation (Table 4). Additionally, falls were associated with an increased risk of death in those with AF (n = 2,007; HR 1.42, 95% CI 1.08 to 1.87) and AF was associated with increased mortality in those who reported falls (n = 1,655; HR 1.47, 95% CI 1.09 to 1.99).
      Table 4Association of atrial fibrillation, falls, and all-cause mortality (N=24,117)
      Events/No. at riskModel 1
      Model 1 adjusted for age, sex, race, education, income, and geographic region.


      HR (95%CI)
      P-valueModel 2
      Model 2 adjusted for Model 1 covariates with the addition of systolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, body mass index, diabetes, antihypertensive medications, warfarin, lipid-lowering therapies, left ventricular hypertrophy, and cardiovascular disease.


      HR (95%CI)
      P-value
      No AF + No Falls2,332/18,3321.0-1.0-
      No AF + Falls286/1,4461.85 (1.63, 2.09)<0.00011.61 (1.42, 1.82)<0.0001
      AF + No Falls411/1,7981.80 (1.61, 1.99)<0.00011.44 (1.28, 1.62)<0.0001
      AF + Falls63/2092.88 (2.24, 3.69)<0.00012.12 (1.64, 2.74)<0.0001
      AF = atrial fibrillation; CI = confidence interval; HDL = high-density lipoprotein cholesterol; HR = hazard ratio.
      Model 1 adjusted for age, sex, race, education, income, and geographic region.
      Model 2 adjusted for Model 1 covariates with the addition of systolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, body mass index, diabetes, antihypertensive medications, warfarin, lipid-lowering therapies, left ventricular hypertrophy, and cardiovascular disease.

      Discussion

      In this analysis, AF was associated with a history of falls independent of several fall risk factors. Additionally, a greater mortality risk was observed for participants with AF who reported falls compared with those with either condition in isolation. To our knowledge, we are the first to describe the relation between AF and falls and the increased mortality in this population.
      A recent systematic review has identified several fall risk factors in older adults that include the following: mobility impairment, previous falls, visual impairment, depression, advanced age, female sex, low body mass index, cognitive impairment, diabetes, and the use of antihypertensive and antianxiety medications.
      • Tinetti M.E.
      • Kumar C.
      The patient who falls: “It's always a trade-off”.
      • Tinetti M.E.
      • Speechley M.
      • Ginter S.F.
      Risk factors for falls among elderly persons living in the community.
      Notably, arrhythmias such as AF have not been previously described as potential fall risk factors. The findings of this analysis suggest that AF potentially increase one's fall risk. Additionally, most reports have focused on people aged ≥65 years. However, physical immobility and chronic disease have been identified as fall risk factors in adults as young as 55 years and demonstrate that falling is not limited to the elderly.
      • Stalenhoef P.A.
      • Diederiks J.P.
      • de Witte L.P.
      • Schiricke K.H.
      • Crebolder H.F.
      Impact of gait problems and falls on functioning in independent living persons of 55 years and over: a community survey.
      Therefore, our data support that falls are not limited to subjects who are >65 years and suggest that AF is a condition with an increased fall risk independent of age.
      AF is associated with several conditions that also are associated with falls. For example, advanced age, diabetes, depression, and cognitive decline are commonly found in individuals with AF.
      • Benjamin E.J.
      • Levy D.
      • Vaziri S.M.
      • D'Agostino R.B.
      • Belanger A.J.
      • Wolf P.A.
      Independent risk factors for atrial fibrillation in a population-based cohort. The Framingham Heart Study.
      • Ott A.
      • Breteler M.M.
      • de Bruyne M.C.
      • van Harskamp F.
      • Grobbee D.E.
      • Hofman A.
      Atrial fibrillation and dementia in a population-based study. The Rotterdam Study.
      • Kilander L.
      • Andren B.
      • Nyman H.
      • Lind L.
      • Boberg M.
      • Lithell H.
      Atrial fibrillation is an independent determinant of low cognitive function: a cross-sectional study in elderly men.
      Therefore, it is plausible that the association between AF and falls is explained by these conditions and AF merely represents a marker for subjects who are likely to fall. However, our results remained statistically significant after adjustment for several fall risk factors. Alternative explanations are related to the medications used to treat AF and the symptoms (e.g., presyncope) associated with failure of rate- and rhythm-control therapies. Additionally, subjects with AF have been observed to have decreased exercise tolerance which possibly leads to deconditioning and impaired mobility.
      • Hohnloser S.H.
      • Kuck K.H.
      • Lilienthal J.
      Rhythm or rate control in atrial fibrillation–Pharmacological Intervention in Atrial Fibrillation (PIAF): a randomised trial.
      • Singh S.N.
      • Tang X.C.
      • Singh B.N.
      • Dorian P.
      • Reda D.J.
      • Harris C.L.
      • Fletcher R.D.
      • Sharma S.C.
      • Atwood J.E.
      • Jacobson A.K.
      • Lewis Jr., H.D.
      • Lopez B.
      • Raisch D.W.
      • Ezekowitz M.D.
      SAFE-T Investigators
      Quality of life and exercise performance in patients in sinus rhythm versus persistent atrial fibrillation: a Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program Substudy.
      • Atwood J.E.
      • Myers J.N.
      • Tang X.C.
      • Reda D.J.
      • Singh S.N.
      • Singh B.N.
      Exercise capacity in atrial fibrillation: a substudy of the Sotalol-Amiodarone Atrial Fibrillation Efficacy Trial (SAFE-T).
      Although several of the aforementioned explanations link AF with falls, further research is needed to elucidate the underlying mechanism.
      Several reports have described an increased mortality risk in older adults who fall.
      • Dunn J.E.
      • Rudberg M.A.
      • Furner S.E.
      • Cassel C.K.
      Mortality, disability, and falls in older persons: the role of underlying disease and disability.
      • Sylliaas H.
      • Idland G.
      • Sandvik L.
      • Forsen L.
      • Bergland A.
      Does mortality of the aged increase with the number of falls? Results from a nine-year follow-up study.
      Data from REGARDS have shown that falls are independently associated with an increased mortality risk, and similar observations have been reported in patients with hemodialysis.
      • Bowling C.B.
      • Booth 3rd, J.N.
      • Safford M.M.
      • Whitson H.E.
      • Ritchie C.S.
      • Wadley V.G.
      • Cushman M.
      • Howard V.J.
      • Allman R.M.
      • Muntner P.
      Nondisease-specific problems and all-cause mortality in the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke study.
      • Li M.
      • Tomlinson G.
      • Naglie G.
      • Cook W.L.
      • Jassal S.V.
      Geriatric comorbidities, such as falls, confer an independent mortality risk to elderly dialysis patients.
      Our results confirm that falls are associated with an inherent mortality risk and identify a subpopulation of AF with decreased survival. The increased mortality in those who fall has been explained by underlying conditions that are linked with functional impairment.
      • Lawlor D.A.
      • Patel R.
      • Ebrahim S.
      Association between falls in elderly women and chronic diseases and drug use: cross sectional study.
      That is to say, subjects who fall have conditions that increase their mortality, and falls likely are consequences of the impaired mobility that accompanies such chronic conditions. Additional explanations include the possible increased bleeding risk associated with anticoagulation. Unfortunately, bleeding complications were not ascertained in our study population. However, a systematic review has suggested that the bleeding risk associated with falls in patients with AF who receive anticoagulation therapies is much smaller than what is perceived by clinicians.
      • Man-Son-Hing M.
      • Nichol G.
      • Lau A.
      • Laupacis A.
      Choosing antithrombotic therapy for elderly patients with atrial fibrillation who are at risk for falls.
      Nonetheless, although we were unable to identify the exact cause of death, we have identified a subpopulation of AF with increased mortality. Further research is needed to explore why patients with AF who fall have an increased risk of death compared with those who do not fall.
      More than 1/3 of community-living adults ≥65 years fall each year.
      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
      Self-reported falls and fall-related injuries among persons aged ≥65 years—United States, 2006.
      Falling has typically been described as a geriatric syndrome given its high prevalence in this population.
      • Tinetti M.E.
      • Kumar C.
      The patient who falls: “It's always a trade-off”.
      However, our findings suggest that patients with AF are more likely to report falls and those with both conditions have an increased mortality. Several interventions have been implemented to reduce the risk of falls, including the discontinuation of psychoactive medications and exercise programs to increase strength and functional mobility.
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      • Whitney J.C.
      • Lord S.R.
      • Herbert R.D.
      • Cumming R.G.
      • Close J.C.
      Effective exercise for the prevention of falls: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
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      • Robertson M.C.
      • Gardner M.M.
      • Norton R.N.
      • Buchner D.M.
      Psychotropic medication withdrawal and a home-based exercise program to prevent falls: a randomized, controlled trial.
      Possibly, patients with AF will benefit from interventions to reduce falls and to decrease the burden that falls will place on the health care system.
      • Heinrich S.
      • Rapp K.
      • Rissmann U.
      • Becker C.
      • Konig H.H.
      Cost of falls in old age: a systematic review.
      Our results should be interpreted in the context of several limitations. Falls and certain cases of AF were ascertained by self-reported history and subjected our analyses to misclassification bias. Similarly, several baseline characteristics were self-reported. Additionally, we were unable to determine the cause of death among study participants, and it is unclear if the increased mortality observed in participants with AF who reported falls was related to the falls or chronic diseases that are highly prevalent in this population. Furthermore, although we adjusted for potential confounders, we acknowledge that residual confounding remains a possibility.

      Acknowledgment

      The authors thank the other investigators, the staff, and the participants of the REGARDS study for their valuable contributions. A full list of participating REGARDS investigators and institutions can be found at http://www.regardsstudy.org. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or the National Institutes of Health.

      Disclosures

      The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.

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