5 Key Facts About Atrial Fibrillation

by Allison Bush Editor

A-fib is common

If you've been diagnosed with A-fib, you're not alone. About 1 percent of the general population has it, and it’s the most common cardiac arrhythmia seen by doctors today. Men and women over age 40 have a one in four lifetime risk of developing A-fib, and your risk increases with age.

An A-fib episode can last for minutes, hours, or weeks

When heart muscle cells misfire, the heart may race from a normal resting rate of 60 to 90 beats per minute (bpm) up to 200 bpm, then slow down after a few moments. When the heart beats exceptionally fast, people may feel dizzy, weak, out of breath, palpitations, or chest pain.

A-fib is not usually life-threatening

While popular belief will have you think A-fib is always deadly, A-fib itself is not usually life threatening. However, the presence of A-fib does increase the risk of blood clots forming in the heart, and if a clot travels to the brain, a stroke will result.

Stroke risk in patients with A-fib is 7 times higher than that of the general public

The incidence of stroke related to A-fib increases with age, especially after 80. Also, strokes related to A-fib are often major strokes that have worse outcomes than non-A-fib strokes, with a greater likelihood of significant disability or death.

A-fib is treatable

In most cases, people seek treatment for A-fib because of its bothersome symptoms. The first question to evaluate is the patient's risk of stroke. If the patient has a low risk, treatment may not be necessary. If the risk is high based on a basic self-test, the patient will be placed on anticoagulants. At that point, heart rate and rhythm control strategies may be discussed.

Allison Bush
Meet Our Writer
Allison Bush

Allison Bush is a former HealthCentral editor who covered a wide range of health topics.