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Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms and Potential for Hospitalization Exacerbated When Living Near Oil and Gas Well Sites

New ColoradoSPH study finds Women and People over the age of 80 at greatest Risk

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AURORA, COLORADO (June 24, 2024)—A new study conducted by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Anschutz) revealed older adults and women with atrial fibrillation (AFib) living within 0.39 miles (or 2059 feet) of oil and natural gas well sites may experience increased severity and exacerbation of their condition during the development of these sites.

The study, led by Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health, found that AFib patients over 80 years of age living close to an oil and natural gas well site experienced an 83% increase in exacerbation risk and a doubling of the risk for emergency room visits for AFib related symptoms. Female AFib patients living within the same proximity experienced a 56% increase in exacerbation risk. Notably, the increased risk extended up to 0.8 miles (4,224 feet) from well sites but did not persist after the development concluded. The study did not find similar increases in younger people and men.

“The prospect that proximity to oil and natural gas well site development, a significant noise and air pollution source, increases atrial fibrillation exacerbation risk requires attention from health care providers, regulators, and policy makers.” said the study’s senior author Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Epidemiology, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Improving Value in Health Care. Co-authors include William Allshouse, PhD, BSPH, and Barbara Abrahams, MD, both from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and Christine Tompkins, MD, from Emory University.

The research team retrospectively followed 1,197 AFib patients living within one mile of an oil and natural gas well site and 9,764 AFib patients living more than two miles away, using data from Colorado’s All Payer Claims Dataset. The study employed a vigorous interrupted time series design, accounting for various factors such as chronic health conditions, personal behaviors, and regional environmental trends.

“Studies like this present an opportunity for ColoradoSPH faculty and researchers to inform policy makers and guide regulators on mitigation strategies that will ultimately protect the health and well-being of Coloradans,” said Travis Leiker, assistant dean of external relations at ColoradoSPH. At least 6% of Colorado’s population living within one mile of an active oil and natural gas well development sites and the current setback between homes and wells at 2,000 feet.                                       

Atrial fibrillation, the most common and clinically significant cardiac arrhythmia, affects approximately 9.3 million Americans and is associated with elevated risks of stroke, systemic thromboembolism, and heart failure. The condition contributes to an estimated 130,000 deaths and $6 billion in healthcare costs annually.

Previous studies have linked AFib with increasing levels of air pollutants and noise, significant sources of which include oil and natural gas well site development. However, this study did not measure noise and air pollution levels directly, preventing the researchers from establishing specific causal links.

“While our study advances understanding of the relationship between oil and natural gas well site development and AFib exacerbation, additional studies are necessary to pinpoint the causal relationships between environmental stressors like noise and air pollution and the incidence and severity of AFib events,” McKenzie said.



About the Colorado School of Public Health

The Colorado School of Public Health is the first and only accredited school of public health in the Rocky Mountain Region, attracting top tier faculty and students from across the country, and providing a vital contribution towards ensuring our region’s health and well-being. Collaboratively formed in 2008 by the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and the University of Northern Colorado, the Colorado School of Public Health provides training, innovative research and community service to actively address public health issues including chronic disease, access to health care, environmental threats, emerging infectious diseases, and costly injuries.

About the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is a world-class medical destination at the forefront of transformative science, medicine, education and patient care. The campus encompasses the University of Colorado health professional schools, more than 60 centers and institutes, and two nationally ranked independent hospitals - UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and Children's Hospital Colorado – which see more than 2 million adult and pediatric patient visits yearly. Innovative, interconnected and highly collaborative, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus delivers life-changing treatments, patient care and professional training and conducts world-renowned research fueled by $705 million in research grants. For more information, please visit www.cuanschutz.edu.