Atrial Fibrillation

Illustration of atrial fibrillation.

Electrical activity of a normal heart (left) and a heart with atrial fibrillation (right).

What is atrial fibrillation?

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.

Facts About AFib

  • It is estimated that between 2.7 million and 6.1 million people in the United States have AFib. As the U.S. population ages, this number is expected to increase.1,2
  • In 2017, AFib was mentioned on 166,793 death certificates and was the underlying cause of death in 26,077 of those deaths.3
  • People of European descent are more likely to have AFib than African Americans.
  • Because the number of AFib cases increases with age and women generally live longer than men, more women than men experience AFib.

What are the symptoms of AFib?

Some people who have AFib don’t know they have it and don’t have any symptoms. Others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart palpitations (rapid, fluttering, or pounding)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

What are the risk factors for AFib?

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.4

Risk factors for AFib include4,5

  • Advancing age
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • European ancestry
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Moderate to heavy alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • 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 a four- to fivefold increased risk of ischemic stroke.6 AFib causes about 1 in 7 strokes.7

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
  • Surgery
  • Medicine and healthy lifestyle changes to manage AFib risk factors

What are the consequences of AFib?

More than 454,000 hospitalizations with AFib as the primary diagnosis happen each year in the United States.4 The condition contributes to about 158,000 deaths each year.3 The death rate from AFib as the primary or a contributing cause of death has been rising for more than two decades.7

Cardiac Dysrhythmia hospitalization rates for fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older were highest in counties in the Northeastern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States.

More Information

References

  1. Miyasaka Y, Barnes ME, Gersh BJ, Cha SS, Bailey KR, Abhayaratna WP, et al. Secular trends in incidence of atrial fibrillation in Olmsted County, Minnesota, 1980 to 2000, and implications on the projections for future prevalence. Circulation. 2006;114(2):199–25.
  2. Go AS, Hylek EM, Phillips KA, Chang Y, Henault LE, Selby JV, Singer DE. Prevalence of diagnosed atrial fibrillation in adults: national implications for rhythm management and stroke prevention: the AnTicoagulation and Risk Factors in Atrial Fibrillation (ATRIA) Study. JAMA. 2001;285(18):2370–5.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death, 1999–2017. Accessed January 7, 2019.
  4. Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2019;139(10):e56–528.
  5. Benjamin E, Levy D, Vaziri SM. Independent risk facors for atrial fibrillation in a population based cohort. JAMA. 1994;271(11):840-844.
  6. Wolf PA, Abbott RD, Kannel WB. Atrial fibrillation as an independent risk factor for stroke: the Framingham Study. Stroke. 1991;22(8):983–8.
  7. Heart Rhythm Society. (2019). Complications from Atrial Fibrillationexternal icon. Accessed May 9, 2019.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Multiple Cause of Death 1999-2017 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December 2018. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2017, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10.html October 4, 2019