Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common problem with the heartbeat's rate or rhythm. Disorganized signals make the heart's two upper chambers (the atria) squeeze very fast and out of sync. They contract so quickly that the heart walls quiver, or fibrillate.
It can happen because the heart's electrical system has been damaged, typically from other conditions that affect the heart. But in at least 1 of every 10 AFib cases, other things may be at play. Sometimes, doctors can't figure out what's causing AFib.
Even after you've been diagnosed with the condition, you may be able to control your AFib and avoid having an episode if you know what triggers them for you.
Age and Family
Your risk increases, especially after age 60. As people grow older, they're more likely to develop heart disease and other conditions that can cause AFib.
If someone in your close family had or has it, there's a greater risk for you, too.
Since AFib is a problem with your heart, it's not surprising that other heart issues raise the risk of AFib, including:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart valve disease
- Rheumatic heart disease
- Heart failure
- Weakened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
- Heart birth defects
- Inflamed membrane or sac around the heart (pericarditis)
AFib can happen during a heart attack.
It's the most common complication after heart surgery. It will happen to 2 or 3 out of every 10 people recovering.
Other Health Conditions
Medical problems not related to your heart can also increase the likelihood that you'll have AFib:
- High blood pressure
- Lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema, or a blood clot in your lung (pulmonary embolism)
- An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
- Obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Infections caused by a virus
Newer research suggests that people who take high doses of steroids, perhaps for asthma or other conditions that cause inflammation, may be at greater risk for AFib. If your chances are higher anyway, this treatment can trigger an episode.
Habits and Lifestyle
A large amount of alcohol, particularly binge drinking, can trigger AFib. But drinking only a modest amount is enough for some people.
When you're under a lot of stress or feeling worn out, that could trigger an episode or make your symptoms worse.