What are the risk factors for atrial fibrillation?
As people with AF can have vague, or no symptoms at all, it is important to be aware of the several factors that can significantly increase the risk of developing AF. 11
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is the most common health factor that can lead to AF. A blood pressure of more than 140/90 mmHg is considered high.
Heart valve defects
The heart contains valves to make sure that the blood flows in the correct direction when your heart contracts. A diseased or damaged valve can affect blood flow in two ways. If a valve does not open fully, your heart has to work harder to force the blood past the narrowing. Alternatively, if a valve does not close fully, blood can leak backwards. This can put a strain on the heart, causing it to work harder to pump the required amount of blood around your body. Valvular heart disease is found in approximately 30% of patients with atrial fibrillation. 1
Diabetes is a condition where too much sugar, or glucose, remains in the blood because the body doesn't properly convert it to energy. People who have diabetes are 2–4 times more likely to have a stroke than those without the condition. Diabetes may contribute to atrial damage and is found in 20% of AF patients. 2
Emotional and physical stress
Stress makes the heart beat faster, raises blood pressure and leads to the release of chemicals (hormones) that further increase the heart rate, which may eventually develop into atrial fibrillation.
Diet and lifestyle
Some foods or drugs contain stimulants, for example caffeine, which increase brain activity. They also make your heart beat faster and increase the blood pressure, which can cause atrial fibrillation.
Many heart problems are closely associated with AF. For example, up to 50% of people with congestive heart failure have AF, while 34% of people with AF also have coronary artery disease. 8,9 AF is present in nearly a third of people with cardiomyopathy (weakened heart muscle), and is also the most common complication after heart surgery, occurring in approximately 20%-30% of post-operative patients. 10
The likelihood of developing AF increases with age. After the age of 40 our lifetime risk of developing AF is 1 in 4. 7