Causes and complications of atrial fibrillation in 2022

Atrial Fibrillation Causes and Complications in 2022

Atrial Fibrillation Causes and Complications in 2022

Millions of Americans have atrial fibrillation, but the causes of this condition aren’t always clear.

Atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib) happens when your heart’s pumping becomes faster or irregular because of changes in heart tissue or a malfunction in electrical signaling.

Some causes or contributing factors behind atrial fibrillation are medical conditions beyond your control, while others are related to your lifestyle.

“There are many different causes of atrial fibrillation,” notes Marc Gillinov, MD, the surgical director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of the book Heart 411.

Most people with AFib have an underlying heart condition that contributes to the development of atrial fibrillation. But in some cases an underlying cause is never identified, according to the Cleveland Clinic. 

Heart Conditions Are Risk Factors

The biggest risk factors for AFib are older age and underlying heart disease, such as coronary artery disease or heart valve disease. Your risk is especially high after age 65

Almost any heart condition can increase your risk for abnormal rhythm and damage your heart’s structure.

Some of the most common heart conditions that can lead to atrial fibrillation include:

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) When your blood pressure — the force of blood in your arteries — is too high, your heart has to work harder than normal, which can lead to dysfunction.

Heart Valve Disease When your heart valves don’t work properly, your heart can have trouble pumping blood.

Congenital Heart Defects Being born with a heart abnormality may mean you’ll eventually develop atrial fibrillation.

Heart Attack When blood flow to your heart becomes blocked, your heart muscle can suffer damage.

Heart Surgery AFib can develop right after heart surgery or as a later complication.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

  • Heart Disease: Types and Symptoms
  • Heart Attack Causes and Risk Factors

Some other health conditions can raise your risk of AFib, including:

  • Sleep Apnea: This condition is marked by pauses in your breathing during sleep.
  • Diabetes: When there is too much glucose (sugar) in your blood, heart damage or neurological damage can occur.
  • Hyperthyroidism: This condition occurs when your thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone, which can cause neurological disruption.
  • Emphysema: This is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that damages the air sacs in your lungs and makes it hard to breathe.
  • Pulmonary Embolism: This happens when a blood clot, usually in your leg, breaks off and travels to block an artery leading to your lungs.

“The numbers of people with sleep apnea, diabetes, and high blood pressure are increasing and contributing to more cases of afib,” says Dr. Gillinov.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

A few personal and demographic traits can increase your risk of afib as well. They include:

Read also

Older Age

The single biggest risk factor is being older. “The exact reason is not known, but it may be due to progressive scarring of atrial tissue,” says Dr. Gillinov.

The odds of developing AFib are notably higher after age 65, when about 9 percent of people have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Family History

People with an immediate family member — a parent or a sibling — with the condition are at higher risk.

European Ancestry White people are more likely than other racial or ethnic groups to develop AFib.

Controllable Risk Factors

Certain lifestyle factors make it more likely that you’ll develop AFib. These factors can be managed by making lifestyle changes. They include:

Excessive Alcohol

Use Heavy use of alcohol, and in particular binge drinking (five drinks in two hours for men, or four drinks for women), can trigger AFib.

Even small amounts of alcohol can trigger the condition in some people, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Illegal Drug

Use Certain street drugs, including cocaine, can trigger AFib or make it worse.

Physical Exertion

Competitive athletes and people who exert themselves at work are at higher risk for afib, while moderate physical activity and being physically fit are associated with a lower risk.


The longer you smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke, the higher your risk for AFib. This risk can be reduced by quitting.

Stress Stressful situations and emotional distress can raise your risk for the condition.

Read more on atrial fibrillation 

Complications of the Condition

AFib can lead to a number of serious complications.

Even though white Americans are at higher risk for the condition than other racial or ethnic groups, African Americans are at higher risk for complications of the condition.

Potential complications of atrial fibrillation include:

Blood Clots

AFib may cause your heart not to pump blood adequately, so that blood pools and forms clots in your heart.

Blood clots can break off and travel to different areas of your body, potentially blocking blood flow and causing serious tissue damage.


A stroke happens when a blot clot breaks off and travels to your head, blocking off blood flow to your brain.

In some people with AFib, the condition has no symptoms, and a stroke is the first sign that you have it.

If you have AFib your risk of a stroke is higher if you’re older or if you’re a woman.

Heart Attack A heart attack happens when blood flow to your heart is blocked, usually by a clot that breaks off from another area of your body.

Women and African Americans with afib are at higher risk for a heart attack.

Prevention and treatment of AFib 

Heart Failure

When your heart is beating too quickly and unevenly, it may not pump blood adequately throughout your body.

If you already have heart failure, afib may make your symptoms worse.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest AFib raises the risk that your heart will suddenly stop beating, especially if you have another heart condition that raises this risk.

Cognitive Impairment Research suggests that people with AFib are at higher risk for cognitive issues and dementia, possibly because of reduced blood flow to the brain.


More contents 

What is the most common complication associated with atrial fibrillation?

Contents. People with atrial fibrillation are at increased risk of having a stroke. In extreme cases, atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure.

What are the complications of atrial fibrillation?

If you have atrial fibrillation (Afib), your heart has episodes when it beats irregularly. The condition can cause troubling symptoms and serious medical complications, including blood clots that can lead to stroke and heart failure. Afib is a type of arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm.

What is the main cause of atrial fibrillation?

Problems with the heart’s structure are the most common cause of atrial fibrillation. Possible causes of atrial fibrillation include: Coronary artery disease. Heart attack.

What is the most common cause of death in atrial fibrillation?

Conclusion. SCD is the most common cause of cardiovascular death in patients with atrial fibrillation and has several distinct predictors, some of which are modifiable

What are the 4 types of atrial fibrillation?

But in 2014, new guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association changed the classification of atrial fibrillation from two types to four:

  • paroxysmal AFib.
  • persistent AFib.
  • long-standing persistent AFib.
  • permanent AFib.

Are there any new treatments for AFib?

Now, there is a solution for those patients. MU Health Care offers a left atrial appendage (LAA) closure procedure. It’s a minimally invasive surgery that drastically reduces the chance of strokes for patients with nonvalvular AFib. Sandeep Gautam, MD, and Hemant Godara, MD, perform the procedure.

Is AFib death sentence?

The AHA notes that an episode of AFib rarely causes death. However, these episodes can contribute to you experiencing other complications, such as stroke and heart failure, that can lead to death. In short, it’s possible for AFib to affect your lifespan. It represents a dysfunction in the heart that must be addressed.

What percentage of people with AFib have a stroke?

Nearly 35 percent of people with AFib will have a stroke.

AFib increases the risk of stroke by fivefold. It is important for patients to meet with their doctor to determine if their stroke risk is high enough to warrant being placed on blood thinners.

What is the drug of choice for atrial fibrillation?

Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers are the drugs of choice because they provide rapid rate control. These drugs are effective in reducing the heart rate at rest and during exercise in patients with atrial fibrillation.

What are the three stages of AFib?

There are three types of atrial fibrillation:

Paroxysmal Afib:

This type of AFib occurs intermittently and stops on its own within seven days.

Persistent Afib:

This type of atrial fibrillation lasts longer than seven days. …

Long-standing persistent Afib:

This is similar to persistent Afib, but lasts longer than a year.

What medications can cause atrial fibrillation?

New-onset AFib has been associated with cardiovascular drugs such as adenosine, dobutamine, and milrinone. In addition, medications such as corticosteroids, ondansetron, and antineoplastic agents such as paclitaxel, mitoxantrone, and anthracyclines have been reported to induce AFib.

How do you stop AFib fast?

6 Ways to Stop an AFib fast

  • Engage in deep, mindful breathing
  • Get some exercise
  • Valsalva maneuver
  • Practice yoga
  • Put some cold water on your face
  • Contact a health professional

Is a pacemaker better than ablation?

Catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a safer, and more effective treatment for patients with tachycardia-bradycardia syndrome (TBS) than pacemaker implantation, according to a study published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine.

Who is a candidate for ablation with AFib?

Traditionally, catheter ablation has been recommended for AFib patients with symptoms that do not respond to at least one antiarrhythmic drug or when a patient cannot tolerate medications.

Can you get Covid vaccine if you have atrial fibrillation?

Yes. People with cardiovascular risk factors, heart disease, and heart attack and stroke survivors should get vaccinated because they are at much greater risk from the virus than they are from the vaccine, according to leaders of the American Heart Association.

What is a good blood pressure for someone with AFib?

The 2018 European Society of Cardiology and European Society of Hypertension guidelines and 2018 Chinese Guidelines of Hypertension suggest that BP treatment targets in individuals with AFib should be at least <140 mmHg, and that <130 should be considered if tolerable (34, 38).

What is the safest antiarrhythmic medication?

Of all antiarrhythmic agents, dofetilide and amiodarone have been proven safe in patients with heart failures

Is atrial fibrillation hereditary?

It can. Atrial fibrillation that is inherited is called familial atrial fibrillation. It has been associated with changes in certain genes in a small number of cases.

Why does AFib happen at night?

A: It’s not uncommon for atrial fibrillation (AFib) to occur at night. The nerves that control your heart rate typically are in sleep mode, and that’s when your resting heart rate drops. Under these conditions, pacemaker activity from areas other than the normal pacemaker in the heart can trigger the onset of AFib.

What heart rate is too high with AFib?

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

A normal heart rate, when you are resting, should be between 60 and 100 beats a minute. In atrial fibrillation, it may be over 140 beats a minute. If you notice an irregular heartbeat and/or have chest pain, see your doctor immediately.

Is banana good for AFib?

Fresh fruit provides lots of nutrients; bananas especially may be beneficial in managing AFib due to their high potassium levels. Low potassium levels may increase your risk of arrhythmia, so instead of going for the packaged fruit cups with loads of extra sugars, stick to fresh fruit


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