Atrial fibrillation is often called AFib, and it’s a growing concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 12 million people in the United States will have AFib by 2030.

The expert providers at Maryland Cardiology Associates in Greenbelt, Maryland, know that a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation can be a surprise, but the more you know about your condition, the better prepared you are to take good care of yourself.

In this post, we describe what happens when you have AFib, some of the risk factors for developing it, and what kinds of treatments are available.

Arrhythmia and AFib

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm. When your heart is working normally, your upper chambers or atria contract and squeeze blood into your lower chambers, or ventricles.

Your ventricles then contract and push the blood into your lungs and on to the rest of your body. The two contractions happen rhythmically and produce the ba-bum of a normal-sounding heartbeat.

When you have AFib, the electrical signals that control when the contractions happen occur irregularly, and the atria get out of sync with the ventricles. Usually, the atria contract much faster than they should—more than 400 beats per minute. A normal rhythm is around 60-90 beats per minute.

One of the biggest risks of atrial fibrillation is that blood can pool in your atria because your ventricles can’t keep up. When blood pools, it tends to clot, and a blood clot in your heart can lead to stroke. In fact, around one in seven strokes is caused by AFib.

Risk factors for AFib

Several factors can make you more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, including:

  • Your age: the older you are, the greater your risk
  • Having heart disease: if you have heart valve problems, coronary artery disease, or some other cardiovascular issue, you’re more likely to have AFib
  • Hypertension: high blood pressure is associated with AFib
  • Thyroid disease
  • Chronic conditions: diabetes, chronic kidney disease, lung disease, and others increase your risk of AFib
  • Alcohol use
  • Obesity
  • Genetics: A family history of AFib can raise your risk

Some people develop atrial fibrillation without risk factors, but if you have any of the conditions listed, you should discuss your risk of AFib with your doctor.

Treating AFib

Atrial fibrillation is a serious condition and should be treated. Effective methods for managing it are available. The best approach depends on your medical history, your heart rate, your overall risk of stroke, and other individual factors.

Your doctor may recommend medications to slow your heart rate, prevent a blood clot, or control your heart rhythm. In some cases, it’s best to have a medical procedure to restore a normal heart rhythm.

Lifestyle modifications may also be helpful. For example, if you smoke, quitting will improve your health. You may need to avoid alcohol, change your diet, or increase the amount of physical activity you do.

If you have questions about your diagnosis, we’re always happy to answer them. Although atrial fibrillation is a serious condition, it’s possible to manage it and enjoy an active, healthy life! Schedule an appointment to discuss your condition with an expert at Maryland Cardiology Associates today. Call our office or book a visit online.

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