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In contemporary atrial fibrillation trials most deaths are cardiac related, whereas stroke and bleeding represent only a small subset of deaths. We aimed to evaluate the long-term risk of cardiac events and all-cause mortality in individuals with atrial fibrillation compared to no atrial fibrillation.A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies published between 1 January 2006 and 21 October 2016.Four databases were searched. Studies had follow-up of at least 500 stable patients for either cardiac endpoints or all-cause mortality for 12 months or longer. Publication bias was evaluated and random effects models were used to synthesise the results. Heterogeneity between studies was examined by subgroup and meta-regression analyses.A total of 15 cohort studies was included. Analyses indicated that atrial fibrillation was associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction (relative risk (RR) 1.54, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.26–1.85), all-cause mortality (RR 1.95, 95% CI 1.50–2.54) and heart failure (RR 4.62, 95% CI 3.13–6.83). Coronary heart disease at baseline was associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction and explained 57% of the heterogeneity. A prospective cohort design accounted for 25% of all-cause mortality heterogeneity. Due to there being fewer than 10 studies, sources of heterogeneity were inconclusive for heart failure.Atrial fibrillation seems to be associated with an increased risk of subsequent myocardial infarction in patients without coronary heart disease and an increased risk of, all-cause mortality and heart failure in patients with and without coronary heart disease.