Atrial fibrillation, often called AFib or AF, is the most common type of treated heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular way.
When a person has AFib, the normal beating in the upper chambers of the heart (the two atria) is irregular, and blood doesn’t flow as well as it should from the atria to the lower chambers of the heart (the two ventricles). AFib may happen in brief episodes, or it may be a permanent condition.
The risk for AFib increases with age. High blood pressure, the risk for which also increases with advancing age, accounts for about 1 in 5 cases of AFib.
Risk factors for AFib include
- Advancing age
- High blood pressure
- European ancestry
- Heart failure
- Ischemic heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use
- Enlargement of the chambers on the left side of the heart
How is AFib related to stroke?
AFib increases a person’s risk for stroke. When standard stroke risk factors were accounted for, AFib was associated with an approximately fivefold increased risk of ischemic stroke.6 AFib causes about 1 in 7 strokes.
Strokes caused by complications from AFib tend to be more severe than strokes with other underlying causes. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or by fatty deposits called plaque in the blood vessel lining.
How is AFib treated?
Treatment for AFib can include
- Medicines to control the heart’s rhythm and rate
- Blood-thinning medicine to prevent blood clots from forming and reduce stroke risk
- Medicine and healthy lifestyle changes to manage AFib risk factors
Healthy lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of heart disease and may prevent atrial fibrillation. Here are some basic heart-healthy tips:
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t smoke
- Avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine
- Manage stress, as intense stress and anger can cause heart rhythm problems