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24 Sept 2022

Deaths due to irregular heartbeat help drive rise in excess mortality

Deaths due to irregular heartbeat help drive rise in excess mortality

Deaths due to an irregular heartbeat are likely to be one of the reasons more people than usual have been dying this year, figures suggest.

The number of deaths registered in England and Wales due to cardiac arrhythmias was well above average for much of the first half of 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Deaths in this category had the second highest excess mortality figures in March and April, up from being the eighth highest in February and the fourth highest in January.

Excess deaths, or extra deaths, are the number of deaths that are above the long-term average for a particular week or month of the year.

There were 234 excess deaths due to an irregular heartbeat registered in March and 138 in April.

In both months this was the second highest number of excess deaths by cause, behind only those due to “ill-defined conditions” – a definition often used to cover symptoms such as old age and frailty.

The total number of deaths due to an irregular heartbeat was 37.1% above average in March and 23.1% in April – a sharp jump from 13.7% in January and 9.2% in February.

The percentages remained high in May and June (39.0% and 17.9%), but the number of excess deaths for this category ranked lower, in fifth and eighth place respectively.

Other leading causes to have contributed to excess deaths this year include ischaemic heart diseases, diabetes, and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Overall 3,848 excess deaths were registered in England and Wales in the first half of 2022.

Sarah Caul, ONS head of mortality analysis, said the figure had been “driven by higher than expected numbers of deaths since March, which could be caused by a combination of factors.

“Across March, April and May we saw increases in deaths due to cardiac arrhythmias, predominantly among those aged 80 and above.

“Further work needs to be done to understand any link between the long-term effects of Covid and increasing cardiac deaths.”

It is also possible that there has been some “mortality displacement”, with the number of deaths higher than average now because of below-average deaths earlier in the year.

“Excess deaths do fluctuate over time and when looking at individual months in 2022, the number of deaths were below expected levels in January and February,” she added.

Total deaths registered in England and Wales were 10.3% below average in January and 7.3% below in February, but were but above average in every month from March to June.

May and June saw a particularly high level of excess mortality, with deaths 15.4% and 8.6% above average respectively.

Covid-19 has been only partly responsible for extra deaths in recent months, the ONS said.

Of the 6,473 excess deaths in May, more than three-quarters (4,897 or 76%) were not due to coronavirus.

The proportion was even higher in June, with 82% not due to Covid-19 (2,900 of 3,516).

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