7 Things You Might Not Know About Atrial Fibrillation

  • Midsection Of Woman Touching Chest In Pain While Standing Against Gray Background
    Atrial Fibrillation Information
    For people with atrial fibrillation, that fluttering feeling in their chest isn’t excitement. It’s a potentially dangerous heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Up to 6 million Americans have atrial fibrillation. But many don’t know it because it doesn’t always cause symptoms. In people without symptoms, doctors may find atrial fibrillation on ECG tests for other reasons. Here are some other atrial fibrillation facts you might not know.
  • Doctor examining mature woman
    1. Atrial fibrillation affects the upper chambers of the heart.
    A normal heart beats 60 to 100 times a minute. In atrial fibrillation, or AFib, the rate is much higher at up to 175 beats per minute. And it’s the upper chambers (the atria) that beat at this racing pace. They may also beat chaotically. This abnormal rhythm and rate puts them out of sync with the lower chambers (the ventricles). The lack of coordination between the upper and lower chambers results in blood pooling in the heart and not getting out to the body efficiently.
  • Hands of a woman checking her pulse
    2. There are different types of atrial fibrillation.
    AFib is the most common heart arrhythmia, but there are different forms of it. Paroxysmal or occasional AFib comes and goes. It may or may not require treatment and may eventually go away on its own. Persistent AFib lasts for more than a week. The rhythm won’t return to normal on its own. It requires electrical shock or medicines to restore a normal rhythm. Persistent AFib can become permanent. In permanent AFib, it isn’t possible to restore normal heart rhythm.
  • Young doctor listening heartbeat with stethoscope of old woman
    3. Age is a major risk factor.
    AFib can happen at any age, but it is much more common in older people. The risk of AFib doubles each decade after age 55. Part of this has to do with other conditions that develop with age, such as high blood pressure. One in five cases of AFib are due to underlying high blood pressure. Other conditions that increase the risk of AFib include diabetes, heart failure, hyperthyroidism, and obesity. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking and alcohol use, can also play a role in developing AFib.
  • Senior man in wheelchair petting dog
    4. The risk of stroke is five times higher with atrial fibrillation.
    Stroke is the major complication of AFib. In fact, up to 20% of all strokes occur due to AFib. And strokes from AFib tend to be more severe than strokes from other causes. About 35% of people with AFib will eventually have a stroke. So, it’s vital to know the signs of stroke and seek emergency care right away. FAST is an easy way to remember: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911.
  • Senior couple smiling affectionately in kitchen
    5. Atrial fibrillation can affect men and women differently.
    There are sex differences when it comes to AFib. Men are more likely to develop AFib compared to women. But women are more likely to have symptoms. Women also tend to be older at diagnosis than men. Compared to men with AFib, women with AFib have a higher risk of stroke. It’s uncertain whether women are more likely to die from AFib. But women account for more than 60% of stroke deaths in the United States.
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    6. Lifestyle changes can help atrial fibrillation.
    Lifestyle habits can play a role in AFib and cause it to flare. Changing or managing these habits are an important part of treatment. Common triggers include excessive alcohol use, caffeine, stress, and poor sleep. For some people, high-intensity exercise that sends their heart rate too high can be a trigger. However, exercise is beneficial for overall heart health. People with AFib should talk with their doctor about a safe exercise plan.
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    7. Newer blood thinners may be an option for people with atrial fibrillation.
    AFib doesn't always need treatment. It depends on the type of AFib and your medical history. When treatment is necessary, it usually consists of medicines to control the heart’s rate or rhythm and blood thinners. Blood thinners, or anticoagulants, prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of stroke. Warfarin (Coumadin) used to be the main one. Today, newer blood thinners are available. They don’t require the same regular monitoring or restrictions as warfarin. They aren’t right for everyone, but they can make life easier for many AFib patients.
Atrial Fibrillation Information | # Things You Might Not Know About Afib

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
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  6. Stroke Risks from Afib. StopAfib. https://www.stopafib.org/stroke.cfm#2
  7. Women and Stroke. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/docs/women_stroke_factsheet.pdf
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 7
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