New findings can make a difference for patients with atrial fibrillation

By studying nationwide data covering 2000-2022, Postdoctoral Fellow, Nicklas Vinter found that the lifetime risk of atrial fibrillation has increased and that heart failure and not stroke was the most common complication after atrial fibrillation. Now, he hopes that his findings will lead to better guidelines and treatment for patients with atrial fibrillation.

New findings change how we understand atrial fibrillation  

In his study, Nicklas Vinter found that the lifetime risk of atrial fibrillation increased. Atrial fibrillation is a chronic condition where the heart does not beat regularly, and it can lead to various health problems. Atrial fibrillation is expected to become more prevalent in the future because of population aging and increased prevalence of risk factors.  

Nicklas and his group found that the lifetime risk of atrial fibrillation in Denmark increased from 1 in 4 individuals in 2000-2010 to 1 in 3 individuals in 2011-2022. They also found that heart failure was the most common complication after atrial fibrillation, and it developed in 2 in 5 patients. After atrial fibrillation, 1 in 5 individuals had a stroke over their remaining lifetime.  

The findings are important for three target groups  

Nicklas is excited about the results because they improve our understanding of the disease burden associated with atrial fibrillation. The results may be relevant for three different target groups. The first target group, and the most important according to Nicklas, is the patients who are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.  
As Nicklas says:

“Lifetime risk is easy to understand, and a high number is likely to motivate patients to initiate or intensify preventive efforts.  For example, the fact that 2 out of 5 patients with atrial fibrillation develop heart failure, may motivate you to a healthy lifestyle and taking prescribed medication.”   

The second target group, according to Nicklas, is healthcare professionals and researchers. Nicklas’ research shows that heart failure was the most frequent complication after atrial fibrillation, but atrial fibrillation guidelines principally focus on stroke prevention. The high lifetime risk of heart failure calls for attention to improving its prevention and early detection. So maybe the findings will facilitate more research and guideline development. 

Lastly, Nicklas hopes that the research will also contribute to the planning and prioritising of resources in the healthcare sector. According to Nicklas, the third target group is therefore healthcare providers and decision-makers. He hopes that the study underlines the potential to lower future healthcare costs by allocating resources to the prevention of complications, as atrial fibrillation is a diagnosis that more than 130,000 people are living with, and about 20,000 are diagnosed with every year in Denmark.  

International collaboration made the difference  

As part of his research process, Nicklas visited an international research environment in Boston, USA.  

“We had a productive collaboration with the research community in Boston. This was beneficial and lifted the results to an even higher level. The input helped strengthen our findings and the methodological approach.” Nicklas says about this collaboration. 

In the future, Nicklas intends to continue focusing on atrial fibrillation. There are future projects planned that can help to explore this area even more.   

“When a disease is as common in society as this is, then we really have to figure out how we can optimise the clinical course for the patients and improve their prognosis”, Nicklas adds. 

About the project:

  • Nicklas Vinter: MD and PhD 
  • Aalborg University, Department of Clinical Medicine, Danish Center for Clinical Health Services. 
  • Began: Planning of the study began in 2020.  
  • DCAcademy Grant: 2022 


  • Pia Cordsen, Statistician, Aalborg University  
  • Søren Paaske Johnsen , Professor, Aalborg University 
  • Laila Staerk , Medical Doctor, Copenhagen University Hospital   
  • Emelia J Benjamin , Professor, Boston Medical Center and Boston University   
  • Lars Frost, Associate Professor, Silkeborg Regional Hospital 
  • Ludovic Trinquart, Associate Professor, Tuft Medical Center and Boston University