Definition

An irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, and heart failure. The American Heart Association states that 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib.

Also Known As

  • AFib
  • AF

Types

  • Paroxysmal – Faulty electrical signals and rapid heart rate begin suddenly and then stop on their own. Symptoms usually stop in less than 24 hours.
  • Persistent – The abnormal heart rhythm continues for more than a week (may stop by itself, or with treatment)
  • Permanent – A normal heart rhythm can’t be restored with treatment.

Both paroxysmal and persistent A-Fib may become more frequent and result in permanent A-Fib with time. AFib is the most common type of arrhythmia, and patients are 5 times more likely to have a stroke.

Causes

The two upper chambers (atria) of the heart experience chaotic electrical signals and force the heart to beat in a fast, irregular rhythm. Normal hearts beat anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). Hearts in AFib can range from 100-175 bpm.

  • Damage to the heart
  • Heart defects present from birth
  • Medications
  • Use of stimulants (including alcohol, caffeine, tobacco)
  • Viral infections

Risk Factors (source)

  • Age
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Family history of AFib
  • History of heart attack
  • High blood pressure (21% of AFib patients also have high blood pressure)
  • Obesity
  • Other chronic conditions

Prevention

Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of AFib complications like stroke and heart failure.

  • Exercise / Increase physical activity
  • Healthy diet
  • Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking / using tobacco
  • Reduce stress
  • Use caution when taking over the counter (OTC) medications

Vaccinations

People with heart disease are at higher risk for serious problems from certain diseases. Getting vaccinated is an important step in staying healthy.

Heart disease can make it harder to fight off certain diseases, make it more likely complications to those diseases will follow, or increase the risk of a heart attack. The CDC recommends all adults receive:

  • Influenza – recommended every year, age 6 months and older
  • Tdap – (if an adult did not receive it as an adolescent to protect against pertussis (whooping cough), and then a Td (tetanus, diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years.

Additionally, the CDC recommends the following vaccines for adults suffering from heart disease (talk to your doctor about which vaccines are right for you):

COVID-19 and Atrial Fibrillation

The CDC notes that, based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Resources

Support Groups