Atrial fibrillation, often called Afib, is a medical condition that occurs when the electrical signals of the upper chambers of the heart become uneven and chaotic. This action causes disruption in signals to the lower chambers, and uneven heartbeat results. Symptoms of Afib include rapid or fluttering heartbeat, fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, weakness, feeling light-headed or reduced ability to exercise. A

Thankfully, a number of treatments are available for atrial fibrillation, most commonly prescribed are prescription medications that regulate the heartbeat (i.e., potassium channel blockers, Amiodarone, Dofetilide, and Sotalol. The main causes of aFib include the following:

1. Existing congenital heart defects or heart valve issues

Individuals who are born with a heart defect or heart valve problem may be vulnerable to developing atrial fibrillation. Your physician may decide to put you on medications to reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation complications.

2. Certain lung diseases

Reduced lung function is associated with atrial fibrillation development. If you have a lung condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, or other issues that restrict oxygen capacity to the heart, your doctor may recommend medications to prevent Afib.

3. Uncontrolled high blood pressure

High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because it often has no symptoms. However, uncontrolled blood pressure levels left untreated are often associated with increased risk of Afib. Have your blood pressure tested regularly if you may be at risk, and take any medication your doctor prescribes in order to reduce your risk for atrial fibrillation and other cardiovascular problems.

4. Heart attack

Individuals who have suffered a previous heart attack or have coronary artery disease are at higher risk for developing atrial fibrillation. A study published by the Circulation journal noted that 729 out of 3,220 heart attack patients developed Afib. 

5. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea causes momentary breathing cessation during sleep. Several studies have found a correlation between patients with sleep apnea and eventual atrial fibrillation development. Although sleep apnea is not a known cause for aFib, the two conditions occur together frequently. So much so that medical experts often advise sleep apnea patients to be regularly tested for atrial fibrillation.

6. Thyroid disease

Individuals who have been diagnosed with thyroid disease, hyperthyroidism in particular, may also be at higher risk for atrial fibrillation. Medical experts believe that the thyroid hormone has direct effects on the heart, which leads them to believe that patients who produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, may be at increased risk of Afib.

You can reduce your risk of develop Afib by making lifestyle changes that protect your cardiovascular health, such as:

  • Eating a heart healthy diet of leafy, green vegetables, lean meats, fruits, nuts and healthy oils.
  • Keeping your weight within a healthy range and getting regular exercise.
  • Managing and limiting daily stress with meditation, breathing techniques or biofeedback.
  • If you smoke, take measures to stop.
  • Limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake.
  • Seeing your doctor regularly if you suffer from any of the above mentioned pre-existing conditions.

If you have been diagnosed with any of these medical conditions, talk to your doctor about the risk of atrial fibrillation and treatments that can reduce your risk of complications. Medications are available to help reduce the risk of heart failure, stroke and other serious cardiovascular conditions.