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Causes of Atrial Fibrillation: Risk Factors and Treatment

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Did you know that atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia, affects millions of people worldwide? Understanding the causes of atrial fibrillation, along with its risk factors and treatment options, is crucial to maintaining a healthy heart. With symptoms ranging from chest pain to heart palpitations, it’s essential to dive into this comprehensive guide to learn more about causes of atrial fibrillation and how to manage this condition effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Atrial Fibrillation is a cardiac arrhythmia which can lead to serious medical complications, and common risk factors include past heart disease, valve problems, past heart surgery, hypertension & diabetes.

  • Lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption & smoking increase the likelihood of developing AFib. Age and genetics are also key contributors.

  • Preventing Atrial Fibrillation involves engaging in physical activity, healthy dieting and controlling blood pressure for optimal heart health.

Understanding Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia that affects the heart rhythm and can lead to potentially serious medical complications. Signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation affecting the heart muscle include:

  • Rapid and erratic heartbeat

  • Fluttering or pounding in the chest

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue or weakness

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Fainting or near fainting

In atrial fibrillation, the atria are unable to contract or effectively pump blood into the ventricles, while the ventricles contract in an irregular manner, resulting in a rapid, irregular heartbeat.

Individuals who are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation include:

  • Those who are 65 years of age or older

  • Those with pre-existing cardiac conditions

  • Those with hypertension

  • Those with thyroid conditions

  • Those who frequently indulge in alcohol

  • Those with sleep apnea

Direct Causes of Atrial Fibrillation

A closer understanding of atrial fibrillation necessitates a look at its direct causes, including previous heart disease, heart valve issues, and previous heart surgery. Conditions such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, obesity, and thyroid disorders are among the heart diseases and health problems that can cause atrial fibrillation.

Previous Heart Disease

Heart disease is a general term used to describe a range of conditions that affect the heart, such as:

  • coronary artery disease

  • heart valve problems

  • arrhythmias

  • congenital heart defects

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the electrical signals that regulate the heart’s rhythm become irregular, leading to the heart beating too quickly most of the time. This type of arrhythmia can be caused by underlying heart disease.

Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Smoking

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Treatment for heart disease depends upon the type and severity of the condition, with possible options including lifestyle modifications, medications, and surgical procedures.

Heart Valve Problems

Heart valve problems, also known as heart valve disease, refer to conditions in which one or more of the four valves of the heart are not functioning optimally. When it comes to atrial fibrillation, mitral valve disorders are more commonly associated with risk of atrial fibrillation.

Symptoms of heart valve problems can include:

  • Swelling of the ankles and feet

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting

  • An irregular heartbeat

  • Chest pain or palpitations

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Weakness

Impaired functioning of the heart valves can dilated of the upper chambers of the heart, which can interfere with the electrical signals that regulate the heart’s rhythm, thus potentially leading to atrial fibrillation and affecting blood flow.

The primary causes of heart valve issues are typically congenital heart defects, rheumatic fever, and the natural process of aging. Maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, which includes regular check-ups with your healthcare provider, is paramount in preventing or managing heart valve problems.

Previous Heart Surgery

There is a suggested association between prior heart surgery and atrial fibrillation. Heart surgery or stress due to surgery or sickness may have the potential to cause atrial fibrillation. Types of previous heart surgery that can increase risk for atrial fibrillation includes:

  • Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

  • Heart Valve Surgery (Particularly Mitral Valve Surgery)

  • Surgery to Repair Congenital Heart Defects (Particularly Atrial Septal Defect Closure)

Understanding the link between previous heart surgery and atrial fibrillation can help individuals and healthcare providers make informed decisions about treatment options and potential risks. Regular check-ups and follow-up care after heart surgery can also play a vital role in managing atrial fibrillation.

Lifestyle Factors Contributing to Atrial Fibrillation

In addition to the direct cardiac causes, lifestyle elements such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and stress can contribute to causes of atrial fibrillation. Given the significant impact these factors can have on heart health, addressing them is key to preventing or managing atrial fibrillation.

Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption can have a profound impact on heart health, as changes in the heart’s electrical system can be caused by alcohol. Studies have indicated that alcohol consumption may be associated with an elevated risk of developing atrial fibrillation, even with modest amounts of alcohol, such as one drink per day.

Research has demonstrated that the incidence of atrial fibrillation rises in correlation with greater alcohol intake. Monitoring alcohol consumption and practicing moderation are critical for maintaining optimal heart health and reducing the risk of atrial fibrillation.

Read more about alcohol and atrial fibrillation here.


Smoking can have detrimental effects on heart health, leading to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. The harmful substances in cigarette smoke can affect the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues.

Abstaining from smoking is a crucial step for individuals with atrial fibrillation in order to reduce the chance of further complications. Quitting smoking can significantly improve heart health and lower the risk of atrial fibrillation and other cardiovascular issues.


Stress can induce the secretion of hormones that have an impact on the heart’s electrical system. These hormones can increase risk for high blood pressure, and can cause the heart to beat more rapidly and erratically, potentially leading to atrial fibrillation.

Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga, is fundamental in managing stress and its impact on heart health. Engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy work-life balance can also help reduce stress and decrease the risk of atrial fibrillation.

Read more about stress and atrial fibrillation here.

Medical Conditions Associated with Atrial Fibrillation

Several chronic medical conditions are associated with atrial fibrillation, including high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and thyroid disorders. Understanding the link between these conditions and atrial fibrillation can help individuals and healthcare providers develop effective prevention and management strategies.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a known risk factor for atrial fibrillation. If the high blood pressure is not managed, it can increase the likelihood of developing AFib. Both conditions are associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and mortality. Patients with hypertension have a higher risk of developing AFib compared to those without hypertension.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity, a heart-healthy diet, and stress management, is vital in managing high blood pressure and its impact on atrial fibrillation. Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help monitor and control high blood pressure, reducing the risk of atrial fibrillation.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by the interruption of breathing during sleep, is linked to atrial fibrillation and can be a potential risk factor for sick sinus syndrome. The most prevalent indications of sleep apnea include snoring, interruptions in respiration, and excessive somnolence during the day. Risk factors for sleep apnea may include being overweight, having a large neck circumference, and having a familial history of sleep apnea.

Treatment options for sleep apnea include lifestyle modifications, such as weight loss and abstaining from alcohol, as well as medical treatments, including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines and surgery. Managing sleep apnea can help reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation and improve overall heart health.

Read more about sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation here.

Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid disorders, which affect the thyroid gland responsible for producing hormones that regulate metabolism, growth, and development, can cause atrial fibrillation. Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid, is the most prevalent cardiac problem in individuals with overactive thyroids and is linked to an elevated probability of developing atrial fibrillation. The role of hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, in AFib is less definitive.

Monitoring and managing thyroid disorders is of utmost importance to prevent or control atrial fibrillation. Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider, along with appropriate medications and lifestyle modifications, can help maintain thyroid health and reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation.

Age and Genetic Factors in Atrial Fibrillation

In addition to lifestyle factors and medical conditions, age and genetic factors also play a role in atrial fibrillation. The risk of atrial fibrillation increases with age, doubling as age increases. Genetic factors, such as family history of atrial fibrillation and certain genetic mutations, can also contribute to atrial fibrillation.


The risk of atrial fibrillation increases with age. It is widely acknowledged that the risk of developing atrial fibrillation doubles as age increases, and older age is the most significant predictor of ischemic stroke in atrial fibrillation. This is thought due to the increase in age related fibrosis in the atria, which can ultimately lead to atrial fibrillation.

Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and stress management, is key to maintaining heart health as you age. Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help monitor and manage atrial fibrillation and other age-related heart conditions.

Genetic Factors

Genetic factors may be linked to atrial fibrillation. Family history of atrial fibrillation, certain genetic mutations, and certain inherited conditions may be associated with atrial fibrillation. Genetic factors can augment the likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation, as well as influence the intensity of the condition. Although there have been some genes described in association with atrial fibrillation, there is no clear genetic test that is used to assess risk for atrial fibrillation.

Being aware of potential genetic factors linked to atrial fibrillation can assist in the diagnosis and treatment process. If you have a family history of atrial fibrillation or are concerned about your genetic risk, consult with your healthcare provider to discuss testing and management options.

Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation

Diagnosing atrial fibrillation involves a combination of physical examinations, electrocardiogram (ECG) tests, and extended cardiac monitoring. An accurate diagnosis is vital for the development of an appropriate treatment plan and effective management of the condition.

During a physical examination, healthcare providers assess the heart rate and rhythm, and request an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). If arrhythmia symptoms are intermittent, an external Holter monitor or event recorder may be required for a period of 24-48 hours or more, measuring and recording the ECG as daily activities are carried out.

Extended ECG monitoring is employed to document cardiac rhythm over a prolonged period to identify Afib that may not be discerned by a single ECG.

In addition, there are many at home monitors that can help diagnose atrial fibrillation such as a KardiaMobile Device or the Apple Watch with ECG sensor.

Read more about diagnosing atrial fibrillation here.

Treatment Options for Atrial Fibrillation

Treatment options for atrial fibrillation include medications, procedures, and lifestyle modifcations. Medications to regulate heart rate and rhythm and avert complications include blood thinners, such as warfarin, to prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of stroke.

Surgical procedures, such as catheter ablation, can be employed to restore regular rhythm and enhance symptoms if medications have not regulated the arrhythmia. Lifestyle modifications, such as regular physical activity, a heart-healthy diet, and stress management, also have a significant role in managing atrial fibrillation.

Read my comprehensive article on atrial fibrillation treatment here.

Natural Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation

If you are interested in natural treatment options for atrial fibrillation and are highly motivated in improving your symptoms naturally, to reduce your need for medications or even procedures, then take a look at my one-of-a-kind, online educational program, Take Control Over AFib.

Lifestyle modifications and reducing inflammation are essential components of the long-term management of atrial fibrillation. Addressing the source cause of atrial fibrillation can lead to a significant benefit for most AFib patients. Targeted lifestyle modifications can reduce your symptoms, reduce your reliance on medications or procedures, and even improve the long-term success rate of a catheter ablation procedure for AFib. However, most patients are not given instructions or tips on how to accomplish these essential lifestyle modifications in an AFib targeted style.

This is exactly why I created the Take Control Over AFib Program, to give people a step-by-step plan to improve and potentially reverse atrial fibrillation naturally.

Thinking about lifestyle modifications is easy, but putting in place a system to keep you committed to achieve real results takes time and dedication, and with my step-by-step plan, we can achieve powerful and long-lasting results together.

Learn more about the Take Control Over AFib Program Here.

Preventing Atrial Fibrillation

Preventing atrial fibrillation involves maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing risk factors. Here are some essential steps to prevent atrial fibrillation:

  • Engage in frequent physical activity

  • Consume a heart-healthy diet low in salt, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol

  • Control high blood pressure

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake

  • Sustain a healthy weight

By following these steps, you can reduce your risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help monitor and manage risk factors, ensuring that you maintain optimal heart health. Adopting these preventative measures can significantly reduce your risk of developing atrial fibrillation and enhance your overall well-being.


In conclusion, understanding the causes, risk factors, and treatment options for atrial fibrillation is crucial for maintaining heart health. By addressing lifestyle factors, managing medical conditions, and being aware of age and genetic factors, you can effectively prevent or manage atrial fibrillation. Remember, regular check-ups with your healthcare provider and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle are the keys to managing atrial fibrillation and enjoying a healthy, active life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main cause of atrial fibrillation?

The main cause of atrial fibrillation is often a combination of multiple factors including age, underlying heart diseases like high blood pressure or heart valve issues, previous heart surgery, lifestyle habits such as excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, stress, and certain medical conditions like sleep apnea and thyroid disorders. Genetic factors may also play a role. However, advancing age is considered the most significant risk factor for developing atrial fibrillation.

Can anxiety cause atrial fibrillation?

It is evident that anxiety can be associated with atrial fibrillation, as it can lead to irregular heart rhythms and contribute to certain heart conditions. Atrial fibrillation may in turn also contribute to anxiety.

What are the most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

The most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include irregular and often rapid heart rate, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, and confusion. In some cases, atrial fibrillation may occur without any noticeable symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention to prevent potential complications such as stroke or heart failure.

Is atrial fibrillation caused by lifestyle?

Yes, lifestyle factors can significantly contribute to the development of atrial fibrillation. Habits such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and leading a sedentary lifestyle can all increase the risk of developing this condition. High levels of stress, poor diet, and obesity are also known to contribute to atrial fibrillation. Therefore, adopting a healthier lifestyle can play a crucial role in preventing and managing atrial fibrillation.

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Atrial Fibrillation from A to Z. Everything you need to know about AFib in a single video.

Can AFib be Reversed with Diet? Find Out More in this Video.

Learn more about the Take Control Over AFib Program here. 

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