December 22, 2014
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Atrial Fibrillation


Who is at risk for atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (also known as AF or AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm). The most common symptom of AF is heart palpitations (an irregular and rapid heartbeat, typically experienced as a rapid thumping in the chest).

Approximately 350,000 Canadians have atrial fibrillation. About 3% of the population over 45 years old and 6% of the population over 65 years old have atrial fibrillation.

Age is an important risk factor for AF. As we get older, changes in our heart make us more susceptible to developing AF. Although AF is more common after age 65, it can occur at younger ages as well. If you are over 40 years old, the lifetime risk of developing AF is 1 in 4. The incidence of AF doubles with each decade of life after age 55.

Although the cause of AF is not always known, there are some conditions that may increase the risk of AF:

  • high blood pressure - the most common of the known causes
  • heart structure abnormalities
  • heart valve disease or damage
  • heart infection or inflammation
  • congenital heart disease
  • coronary artery disease
  • heart failure
  • heart attack or surgery
  • sick sinus syndrome (a condition where the heart's natural pacemaker isn't firing electrical signals properly)
  • hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • blood clot in the lung
  • lung conditions, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or emphysema
  • obesity
  • sleep apnea (a condition where you may stop breathing for several seconds while you sleep)
  • excessive alcohol use

For 15% to 20% of people with AF, there are no obvious causes or risk factors. In others, genetics may be the cause of AF.

Use our Atrial Fibrillation Risk Assessment tool to find out your risk of developing atrial fibrillation in the next 10 years.

Atrial fibrillation increases your risk for stroke, heart failure, and being hospitalized. Learn more about these complications in "How can atrial fibrillation harm me?" The good news is that there are many effective ways to manage atrial fibrillation. Your doctor can discuss atrial fibrillation with you and address any concerns you may have. If you have questions about atrial fibrillation or want to know if you are at risk for atrial fibrillation, talk to your doctor.

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