Atrial Fibrillation is one of the most common arrhythmias of the heart. It is often referred as “irregular heart beat” or “quivering of the heart”1. It is important because it is related to strokes, heart failure and cognitive decline. Its treatment, in addition to trying to control the arrhythmia, usually involves anticoagulation in order to decrease the risk of stroke.
Even if people are healthy and have few or no cardiovascular risk factors, there is a age-related risk of developing atrial fibrillation. This risk has been measured and it increases progressively with age. In one study, people between 55-59 years old have a 0.7% risk, 60-64 years old 1.7%, 65-69 years old 4.0%, 70-74 years old 6.0%, 75-79 years old, 9.0%, 80-84 years old 13.5% and older than 85 years old 17.8%2. The risk seems to be slightly higher in men than in women.
The risk of developing atrial fibrillation increases with the presence of conditions such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, heart failure, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, excessive sports practice, chronic inflammatory states, and alcohol abuse3. In addition there are genetic markers that might explain why certain people develop atrial fibrillation at a younger age and why white people are more affected than people from African of Hispanic descent. There are mutations in certain genes that increase the risk and there are genetic variants called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) that are associated with early onset atrial fibrillation.
Like with every condition, there are modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors (like the genetic ones). If anyone has any of the non-modifiable risk factors, it is better to be on the safer side and make sure that more risk is not added to the already present ones. Also, be in close communication with your personal physician for proper prevention and treatment if needed.
1. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/What-is-Atrial-Fibrillation-AFib-or-AF_UCM_423748_Article.jsp#.V3RKAFeL1M8. Obtained June 20, 2016
2. Jan Heeringa, Deirdre A.M. van der Kuip, Albert Hofman, Jan A. Kors, Gerard van Herpen, Bruno H.Ch. Stricker, Theo Stijnen, Gregory Y.H. Lip3, and Jacqueline C.M. Witteman. European Heart Journal. 2006;27: 949-953
Marco A. Ramos MD