What are the Causes of Atrial Fibrillation?

What are the Causes of Atrial Fibrillation?

Many times when I meet a patient who's been recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, they want to know, "Why did I get atrial fibrillation? What causes atrial fibrillation?" This article will highlight the most common things that cause the long-term condition of atrial fibrillation.

It is important to differentiate this from triggers that can cause specific individual episodes of atrial fibrillation. What this article will delve into is the causes of the long-term condition.

What are the most common causes of Atrial Fibrillation?

1. Age Of the Patient

The most common cause of atrial fibrillation and the most significant one is age. If you ever see graph of people who have atrial fibrillation based by age, the prevalence of AFib starts to significantly increase as patient reach about 60 years of age.

The incidence of atrial fibrillation continues to increase sharply as people get older, to the point that when people get close to 80 years old, that prevalence of people having AFib gets close to about 10%. Therefore, there's an increased risk as people get older.

This is attributed by age-related fibrosis. As people get older, they develop scar tissues inside of their heart, not that different from people getting wrinkles as they age as a comparison. People get fibrosis and scarring in their heart as they age, which can then lead to atrial fibrillation.

2. High Blood Pressure And Diabetes

Other common risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation include high blood pressure and diabetes even if either one of these are well controlled with medications. Just the long term manifestation of having high blood pressure or diabetes can lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation.

3. Past Heart History Cause Of Atrial Fibrillation

Another significant, risk factor for developing atrial fibrillation is any type of past heart disease history. If you've ever had a congenital heart disease (a heart condition you were born with, like a hole in your heart) or if you've ever had coronary artery disease, meaning you've ever had a heart attack before or you've had stents inside of your heart or known blockages inside of your heart then you have an increased risk to develop atrial fibrillation.

If you've ever had congestive heart failure, which is sometimes referred to either a weak heart or stiff heart or history of a valve problem with your heart either you have a leaky valve or stiff valve, all of these features of other types of heart disease are all risk factors for atrial fibrillation, especially when they have been potentially going on for years.

4. Previous Heart Surgery

Another thing that is a risk factor related to your heart is having had a past heart surgery. So if you've ever had surgery on your heart, if you've ever had bypass surgery on your heart or you've had a valve surgery on your heart, those are risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation.

5. Familial History Of Atrial Fibrillation

Having a family history of atrial fibrillation indeed exposes you to the risk of having atrial fibrillation as well. In my experience, I've had some family members where I take care of a grandparent, parent, as well as an adult child and they all have atrial fibrillation, so certainly there is a correlation genetically.

There have been some genes described in association with atrial fibrillation, but it's not one of those conditions where they say, "Okay, its one single gene that causes the atrial fibrillation in families."

There seems to be association of genes and that in part leads to the genetic side of atrial fibrillation, but that appears to be still figured out in terms of how that is influenced by family members.

6. Obesity

Obesity is also a cause of atrial fibrillation with its association with other health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes; obesity by itself can be a cause for atrial fibrillation. As we all know, we can control all this by healthy living and there's actually been a lot of good recent data that has shown how much weight loss can actually improve a person's atrial fibrillation.

7. History of Lung Disease and COPD

Another factor that can cause atrial fibrillation is any history of lung disease. The lungs are very closely associated to the heart and people who have lung diseases, whether that's COPD or emphysema, or significant asthma can also have risk for developing atrial fibrillation because when people have lung disease, they have increased pressure inside of the lungs which then gets transmitted over to their heart and that could eventually lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation.

8. Thyroid Disease

Thyroid disease has been known to cause atrial fibrillation. People whom have either low or more commonly seen in hyper-thyroidism, especially if they've been untreated for a prolonged period of time have an increased risk for atrial fibrillation. Especially hyper-thyroidism puts an extra strain in your heart from those excess thyroid hormones and can then lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation.

9. Sleep Apnea

Another thing that is also associated with obesity that can also cause atrial fibrillation is sleep apnea. There's been a very strong association with sleep apnea and the development of atrial fibrillation and there have actually been a lot of good studies showing that the treatment of sleep apnea can also improve a person's atrial fibrillation.

10. Smoking

Smoking has also been associated with atrial fibrillation. There's been recent studies that show that smoking by itself increases a risk for patient's atrial fibrillation and also smoking is also more associated with things like coronary disease and lung problems such as COPD and emphysema and all those together all really can cause atrial fibrillation. Recent studies have also shown that the more you smoke, the higher the risk for developing atrial fibrillation.

11. Endurance Training

Another interesting risk factor for developing atrial fibrillation, which is still trying to be understood a little bit more is endurance training. People who do long term endurance exercises, we are talking about long term endurance bike riding like MS 150's, or triathlons, or marathon runners. These really extreme long distance exercise patients can develop atrial fibrillation as well.

Some studies have shown that in these people who do endurance exercises end up developing some additional fibrosis in their atrium, which can lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation. So that's a risk factor that is becoming more recognized and the data is starting to become out more as a potential risk factor for developing atrial fibrillation.

12. Patients of European Ancestry

And lastly European ancestry. People who are of European ancestry have a more significant risk factor for developing atrial fibrillation.


So those are some of the more common risk factors for developing the long-term chronic condition of atrial fibrillation.

Some of them you can do things about such as diabetes, high blood pressure, some of them you can't change anything about, such as a person's age and family history. But these are examples to help you identify what may have caused yours or a family member's atrial fibrillation.

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