What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?


Wyatt Myers

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Medications for Atrial Fibrillation

The cause of some heart problems, like atherosclerotic heart disease or heart attack, is often easy to pinpoint. But when you have the irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation, or afib, your health care provider may have a hard time finding the cause. That’s because afib has to do with the electrical impulses that affect how your heart beats.

Normally, your heart keeps a steady beat. Blood flows smoothly from one chamber to the next. When you have afib, your upper heart chambers, the left and right atria, beat irregularly. They may beat too fast. Instead of efficiently flowing to the lower chambers, called ventricles, blood pools in the atria. Afib can lead to problems over time, such as heart failure and stroke.

Afib Risk Factors

Your health care provider may not always be able to find what's causing your afib. Sometimes, high blood pressure or heart disease damages your heart’s electrical system. You may have certain risk factors that increase your chances of getting afib.

Some factors you cannot control, like getting older. However, you can manage other lifestyle factors, such as controlling how much alcohol you drink, and not binge drinking.

At Your Appointment

What to Ask Your Doctor About Atrial Fibrillation

Medical Conditions Related to Afib

Some medical conditions are related to afib. If you have any of these conditions and you get treatment for them, you can lower your chances of getting afib. If you already have afib, controlling your other medical conditions can lower your risk for complications.

Heart problems that are strongly linked to afib include heart failure, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other irregular heartbeats. Other conditions that can affect afib are thyroid problems, diabetes, and asthma. Obstructive sleep apnea is also strongly linked to afib. Treating these conditions may also help your afib.

Follow Your Treatment Plan

Ask your health care provider about lifestyle changes you can make to promote good health. Eat a healthy diet, control your weight, and get regular exercise. If you smoke, quit. Limiting alcohol and caffeine is also important.

Finally, follow your health care provider’s advice and your treatment plan to prevent serious complications from afib.

Key Takeaways

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat caused by a problem in your heart’s electrical system.

  • High blood pressure or heart disease might be causing your afib. However, the cause also could be unknown.

  • Guard against risk factors related to afib. These include binge drinking and obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Take steps to prevent and treat related diseases. This can reduce the risks related to afib.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jan 20, 2018

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Medical References

  1. Prevention Strategies for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF). American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Prevention-Strategies-for-Atrial...
  2. What Is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)? American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/What-is-Atrial-Fibrillation-AFib...
  3. Who Is at Risk for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)? American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Who-is-at-Risk-for-Atrial-Fibril...
  4. What Is Atrial Fibrillation? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/af
  5. What Causes a Heart Attack? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/causes

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