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What is Atrial Fibrillation?

An arrhythmia is a disturbance in the normal rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. This is caused by abnormalities in the heart's electrical system. Arrhythmias can range from annoying palpitations to life-threatening, sudden cardiac death risks.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF, is the most common type of arrhythmia and affects more than 2 million Americans. Atrial fibrillation is a disturbance in the heart's rate or rhythm, caused by multiple electrical short circuits in the atria. This forces the atria to beat extremely fast and irregularly, which causes the atrium to quiver instead of contract normally.

Watch our videos for more information on AFib »

Who Does AFib Affect?

AFib affects millions of people, and the number is rising. Men are more likely than women to have the condition. In the United States, AFib is more common among whites than African Americans or Hispanic Americans.

The risk of AFib increases as you age. This is mostly because your risk for heart disease and other conditions that can cause AFib also increases as you age. However, about half of the people who have AFib are younger than 75.

AFib is uncommon in children.

Major Atrial Fibrillation Risk Factors

AFib is more common in people who have:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Heart failure
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Structural heart defects, such as mitral valve prolapse
  • Pericarditis, a condition in which the membrane, or sac, around your heart is inflamed
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Sick sinus syndrome, a condition in which the heart's electrical signals don't fire properly and the heart rate slows down; sometimes the heart will switch back and forth between a slow rate and a fast rate

AFib also is more common in people who are having heart attacks or who have just had surgery.

Other Risk Factors

Other conditions that raise your risk for AFib include hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone), obesity, diabetes, and lung disease.

Certain factors also can raise your risk for AFib. For example, drinking large amounts of alcohol, especially binge drinking, raises your risk. Even modest amounts of alcohol can trigger AFib in some people. Caffeine or psychological stress also may trigger AFib in some people.

Some data suggest that people who have sleep apnea are at greater risk for AFib. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that causes one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.

Metabolic syndrome also raises your risk for AFib. Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for CHD and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke.

Research suggests that people who receive high-dose steroid therapy are at increased risk for AFib. This therapy is used for asthma and some inflammatory conditions. It may act as a trigger in people who have other AFib risk factors.

Genetic factors also may play a role in causing AFib. However, their role isn't fully known.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Why Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital – Plano?

Focusing on individualized, patient-centered care, the electrophysiologists on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital – Plano work closely with you and your physician to tailor a treatment approach that is right for you. The Heart Hospital provides advanced arrhythmia diagnosis, treatment, and management approaches to fit your needs in advanced facilities with a five-star patient experience.

​Baylor Scott & White Heart – Plano was the first in the world to use the Stereotaxis EPOCH system, a highly advanced computer controlled technology that enables specialists on the medical staff to navigate hard-to-reach areas of the heart to perform complex ablation techniques.​​​

Main phone number: 469.814.3278  469.814.3278 (HEART)

1.877.814.4488  1.877.814.4488 Toll-free

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