Atrial Fibrillation (cont.)

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What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AFib)?

Many patients with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and are unaware of the abnormal heart rhythm. The most common symptom of AFib is palpitations, an uncomfortable awareness of the rapid and irregular heartbeat. Other symptoms of AFib are caused by the diminished delivery of blood to the body. These symptoms include:

  • dizziness,
  • fainting,
  • weakness,
  • fatigue,
  • shortness of breath, and
  • angina (chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscles).

What are the risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation (AFib)?

There are many risk factors for developing AFib. These risk factors are:

  • Increased age (1% of people over 60 years of age have AFib)
  • Coronary heart disease (including heart attack)
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart muscle function (including congestive heart failure)
  • Disease of the mitral valve between the left and right ventricle
  • An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or overdose of thyroid medication
  • Low amounts of oxygen in the blood, for example, as occurs with lung diseases such as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Inflammation of the lining surrounding the heart (pericarditis)
  • Blood clots in the lung (pulmonary embolism)
  • Chronic lung diseases (emphysema, asthma, COPD)
  • Excessive intake of alcohol (alcoholism)
  • Stimulant drug use such as cocaine or decongestants
  • Recent heart or lung surgery
  • Abnormal heart structure from the time of birth (congenital heart disease)

About 1 in 10,000 otherwise healthy, young adults have atrial fibrillation without any apparent cause or underlying heart disease. AFib in these individuals usually is intermittent, but can become chronic in 25%. This condition is referred to as lone AFib. Stress, alcohol, tobacco, or use of stimulants may play a role in causing lone AFib.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/27/2015

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