Atrial Fibrillation: The Most Commonly Occurring Heartbeat Problem

Published: March 22, 2024
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD

Atrial fibrillation (also known as AFib) is the most common type of irregular heart arrythmia. As the baby boom generation ages, it is estimated that more than 12 million people in the US will have this condition by the year 2030.

What is atrial fibrillation?
Arrhythmias occur when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or irregularly. AFib happens when the upper chambers (sections of the heart) and the lower chambers are not working together properly. This can cause less blood to be pumped to your lungs and the rest of your body and may leave some blood behind in your heart.

Who is most at risk for atrial fibrillation?
The risk of atrial fibrillation increases in older adults, especially those of European heritage and in those who smoke or that have moderate to heavy alcohol use. Health related risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Failure
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Thyroid disease (Hyperthyroidism)
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease

How will I know if I have atrial fibrillation?
Some people who have AFib may not have any noticeable symptoms. Others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

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

Why should I be concerned about atrial fibrillation?
People with atrial fibrillation are at increased risk of being hospitalized or dying due to the changes in heart function and can worsen any other heart conditions. Because AFib may cause blood to pool in your heart, it can also increase your risk of stroke.

What treatments are available?
Management of your heart rate can be done with medications, medical procedures, or surgery. To reduce the risk of stroke, anticoagulation medications may also be prescribed. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise to help improve your heart health.

If you have symptoms of AFib, it is important to see a doctor right away. Because many people do not have noticeable symptoms, it is important to have regular checkups with your doctor. If you have AFib, it is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations and take any medications as directed.

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