What Is the Most Common Cause of Atrial Fibrillation?

Reviewed on 9/1/2021

The most common causes of atrial fibrillation (A-fib) include heart conditions such as heart disease, heart failure, heart attack, coronary artery disease, complications from heart surgery, and congenital heart defects.
The most common causes of atrial fibrillation (A-fib) include heart conditions such as heart disease, heart failure, heart attack, coronary artery disease, complications from heart surgery, and congenital heart defects.

Atrial fibrillation (also called AF or A-fib) is an irregular or abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia). In A-fib, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly because the electrical signals that control the heart are not functioning properly. As a result, blood is not moved out of the upper chambers as fast as it should be and blood clots may form. Blood clots increase the risk of stroke

There are two types of atrial fibrillation:

  • Paroxysmal (or intermittent) A-fib refers to episodes that last under 24 hours and go away on their own within seven days
  • Persistent A-fib, which lasts more than seven days

A-Fib Causes

Atrial fibrillation often begins as paroxysmal and then progresses to persistent. 

Risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation include age and underlying heart disease.

The most common causes of A-fib include heart conditions such as:

Other risk factors for developing A-fib include:

What Are Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation may not always cause symptoms. 

Mild symptoms of atrial fibrillation may include:

  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Feeling of the heart racing
  • Sensation of tightness, pain, or discomfort in the chest
  • Lightheadedness
  • Mild shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Mild fatigue, especially with exercise

Severe symptoms of atrial fibrillation may include:

How Is Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosed?

Atrial fibrillation is diagnosed with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), a test that measures the heart's electrical activity. 

A Holter or event recorder (devices worn over a day or two that monitor heart activity using an ECG recording) may be used in some cases. 

Tests that may be indicated to check for other problems include:

  • Echocardiogram (ultrasound) to check for heart failure or heart valve problems
  • Sleep studies to check for sleep apnea
  • Lung function tests to look for underlying lung disease
  • Blood tests to screen for thyroid disorders

SLIDESHOW

Heart Disease: Causes of a Heart Attack See Slideshow

What Is the Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation?

The goal of treatment for atrial fibrillation is to control heart rhythm and rate and to stop blood clots from forming (anticoagulation) to prevent stroke

Treatment to control heart rhythm includes:

Treatment to control heart rate includes:

  • Medications
  • Placement of a permanent pacemaker (used when other rate and rhythm control alternatives have not been successful)

Anticoagulation treatments include:

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Reviewed on 9/1/2021
References
http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/151066-overview

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/atrial-fibrillation-beyond-the-basics?search=Atrial%20Fibrillation&source=search_result&selectedTitle=6~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=6#H3

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation/who-is-at-risk-for-atrial-fibrillation-af-or-afib