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Conditions You May Have Along With AFib

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 02, 2021

When you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), there’s a chance you could have another health condition as well. Depending on what the condition is, getting treatment for it might improve your AFib. That’s one reason why it’s so important to work closely with your doctor.

Here are some problems linked to AFib to be aware of.

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Over time, uncontrolled high BP can raise your chances of getting atrial fibrillation. What’s more, heart disease that’s caused by high blood pressure, called hypertensive heart disease, is the most common underlying health condition in people who have AFib.

High BP usually doesn’t bring on symptoms. You’ll need to know what your blood pressure numbers are and if they’re too high. If they are, your doctor will talk with you about lifestyle changes (such as nutrition, cutting down on sodium, and getting regular exercise) and perhaps also medication.

Coronary Heart Disease

Your doctor may also call this coronary artery disease. It means there’s a buildup of plaque in the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. If coronary heart disease causes you to get heart failure or have a heart attack, it can make you more likely to get AFib. But if treatment keeps heart disease in check, your chances of getting atrial fibrillation from it are much lower.

It’s common to have no symptoms of coronary disease. If you do, they usually show up when you exercise. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Pain, pressure, or discomfort in the middle of your chest
  • Pain or tingling in your arms, back, neck, jaw, or belly
  • Shortness of breath

If you have any symptoms like that, get medical attention right away.

Heart Failure

This is when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. It’s common to have both heart failure and AFib. Having one may make you more likely to get the other. The more severe someone’s heart failure is, the more likely they might be to get atrial fibrillation.

At first, you might not have symptoms of heart failure. If it gets worse, you might:

Heart Valve Disease

This is when one or more of your heart’s four valves don’t work as well as they should. Those valves open and close in sequence as your heart fills with blood and then pumps to ensure blood flows into and through your heart and back out to the rest of your body. Heart valve disease can play a role in someone getting AFib.

If you have heart valve disease, you might not notice symptoms at first. But some of the signs are:

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

This is when your heart muscle thickens, making the four chambers inside it smaller. That can make it harder for your ticker to pump. If you don’t get it under control with treatment, it can make you more likely to get AFib and other heart problems.

You might not have any symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. But if you do, the warning signs can include:

  • A hard time breathing, especially when you exercise or lie down
  • Chest pain that may get worse when you’re active
  • Fainting or feeling like you might pass out
  • Fast or skipped heartbeats
  • Swollen feet, ankles, or legs

Congenital Heart Disease

This is a problem with your heart’s structure that you were born with. If you have congenital heart disease, your chances of getting AFib seem to be higher especially when you’re over 60 years old.

It’s possible to have no symptoms of a congenital heart problem, but the signs can include:

Obesity

Obesity refers to a BMI of 30 or higher. (BMI relates health risks based on your weight for your height.) This can make you more likely to get atrial fibrillation compared to someone at a healthy weight. Losing extra pounds -- possibly just 10% of your body weight -- might make your AFib symptoms less frequent or severe.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is when your throat muscles repeatedly relax and block your airway while you sleep, making your breathing stop and start. It’s possible that OSA might cause AFib, but more research is needed.

Some of the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are:

  • Loud snoring
  • Restless sleep
  • Waking up choking or gasping
  • Feeling sleepy during the day

Venous Thromboembolism

Your doctor may use this term when talking about a clot in a deep vein (called DVT) or a pulmonary embolism, which is when a clot travels to your lungs and blocks an artery there. That can be deadly.

Venous thromboembolism can become a chronic condition for some people. It’s linked to worse odds of getting atrial fibrillation, especially in the first 6 months after you got a blood clot.

DVT usually affects your leg or pelvis, and sometimes the arm. About half of people don’t have symptoms. But you could have signs like:

  • Pain, swelling, or tenderness
  • Skin redness

Some symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are:

Hyperthyroidism

This means your thyroid gland makes too much of the hormones that control how your body uses energy. That can raise your odds for AFib. Some experts recommend that everyone with atrial fibrillation get a blood test to check for hyperthyroidism.

Some people don’t get symptoms of hyperthyroidism, but the signs can include:

  • Feeling anxiety or irritable
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weakness, especially in your arms and thighs
  • Trembling
  • Sweating often
  • Fast or unsteady heartbeats

Diabetes

This is linked to worse odds of getting AFib, especially if you don’t keep your blood sugar in check over the long term. Uncontrolled diabetes is tied to worse AFib symptoms and more hospital visits.

Some symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Peeing a lot, especially at night
  • Extreme thirst or hunger
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Blurry vision
  • Numb or tingling in your hands or feet

Chronic Kidney Disease

This means your kidneys don’t filter your blood as well as they used to, and without treatment they could eventually stop working. Chronic kidney disease makes your risk for AFib go up.

If the disease gets worse, it can bring on symptoms like:

  • Swollen feet, ankles, or legs
  • Tiredness
  • Bone damage

Lung Disease

If you have an ongoing lung disease, especially emphysema (damaged air sacs), it might make you more likely to get atrial fibrillation.

Some symptoms of emphysema are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough with mucus
  • Wheezing (a whistling noise when you breathe)
  • Tightness in your chest

Sick Sinus Syndrome

Your doctor may call this “sinus node dysfunction.” It’s a problem with your heart’s electrical system that can bring on dizziness, chest pain, and fainting. It can raise your chances of getting AFib.

If sick sinus syndrome brings on symptoms, you might have ones like:

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Fainting or feeling like you’re going to pass out
  • Trouble breathing that gets worse during exercise
  • Chest pain, especially during exercise or a stressful time
  • Fast, hard, or skipped heartbeats

Anxiety and Depression

You might be more likely to have either of these mental health conditions with atrial fibrillation. More research is needed to find out if AFib could make you more likely to get anxiety or depression, or if it’s the other way around. Since either mental health condition might make your AFib symptoms worse, it’s extra important to reach out to your doctor and loved ones for help if you’ve been feeling anxious or sad for a while.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Journal of the American College of Cardiology: “Atrial Fibrillation and Diabetes Mellitus: JACC Review Topic of the Week.”

Up to Date: “Epidemiology of and risk factors for atrial fibrillation,” “Patient education: Heart failure (The Basics),” “Patient education: Coronary artery disease (The Basics),” “Patient education: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in adults (The Basics),” “Patient education: Sleep apnea in adults (Beyond the Basics),” “Patient education: Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) (The Basics),” “Patient education: Atrial fibrillation (Beyond the Basics),” “Patient education: Sinus node dysfunction (The Basics),” “Patient education: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (Beyond the Basics),” “Patient education: Chronic kidney disease (The Basics).”

American Heart Association: “Who is at Risk for Atrial Fibrillation (AF or AFib)?” “Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease,” “Coronary Artery Disease - Coronary Heart Disease,” “What is Venous Thromboembolism (VTE)?” “Risk Factor Modification Reduces Atrial Fibrillation.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Heart Valve Disease.”

American Lung Association: “Emphysema.”

Mayo Clinic: “Congenital heart disease in adults,” “Obstructive sleep apnea,” “Atrial fibrillation and managing stress,” “Sick sinus syndrome."

CardioSmart: “Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM),” “Weight Loss and Exercise are Critical for Obese Patients with Atrial Fibrillation.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Sick Sinus Syndrome.”

CDC: “Venous Thromboembolism (Blood Clots),” “Diabetes Symptoms.”

MedlinePlus: “Hyperthyroidism.”

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