What are the causes of Atrial Fibrillation (AF)?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common arrhythmia which affects millions of people. 

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the electrical activity in the heart becomes disrupted and the chambers of the heart stop beating in synchrony.

This results in an irregular pulse and reduces the amount of blood the heart pumps out each beat. 

The common causes of AF can either be due to a problem in the heart (cardiac causes) or a problem elsewhere in the body (non cardiac causes).

Often Atrial Fibrillation causes no symptoms, but can cause palpitations, shortness of breath and fainting episodes.

Cardiac causes of Atrial Fibrillation 

  • Heart failure
  • Heart ischaemia (eg: a heart attack)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Congenital heart disease

Non Cardiac causes of Atrial Fibrillation 

  • Pneumonia (a chest infection)
  • Pulmonary Embolism (blood clot in the lung)
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Alcohol
  • Sepsis / severe infections
  • Post-operatively

In some cases the Atrial Fibrillation is temporary whilst the other condition is present. For example, AF due to a chest infection will often resolve once the infection is treated.

If the AF persists then treatment options will need to be considered. The two main options for treating AF are rate control (controlling how fast the heart is beating) or rhythm control (trying to keep the heart in a normal rhythm).

In addition patients may need to take blood thinning medication such as Warfarin. This is because AF increases the risks of a blood clot forming in the heart which can cause a stroke. 

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