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Penn Medicine researchers found every one-inch increase in height puts someone at a three percent higher risk for atrial fibrillation.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

A new Penn Medicine study found that taller people are at increased risk of developing a serious heart disease.

Breakthrough research conducted by Cardiovascular Medicine fellow Michael Levin and his team at Penn Medicine indicates that height is a causal risk factor for atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart failure, stroke, blood clots, and other complications.

Millions of people in the United States suffer from the symptoms of AFib. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Penn Medicine researchers found every one-inch increase in height puts an individual at a three percent higher risk for AFib, compared to a control height of 5 feet 7 inches tall. In the study, Levin and his team amassed data from 1.2 million individuals.

Even after considering traditional risk factors of AFib, the team still found a strong association between height and arrhythmia. These results were reinforced in an additional individual-level analysis of 7,000 patients in the Penn Medicine Biobank, a database of biological samples.

“Our findings suggest it may be beneficial to incorporate height into risk-prediction tools for AFib,” Levin said in a press release. “While current guidelines advise against widespread screening for AFib, our findings show that a certain group of patients—specifically very tall patients—may benefit from screening.”

Professor of surgery at Penn Medicine Scott Damrauer said in the press release that the study's methodology can help researchers better collect data on other diseases. 

"These analyses show how we can use human genetics to help us better understand causal risk factors for common disease," Damrauer said in the press release. "They also illustrate how we can combine summary-level statistics from large published studies with individual level data from institutional biobanks to further our understanding of human disease."