Does Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosis Increase With Age?

As many as one out of every 25 Americans over age 60 will be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a common heart arrhythmia also known as AFib. That number rises to 1-in-10 over age 80. While atrial fibrillation diagnosis may increase with age, though, this heart condition can develop at any age. Many patients as young as their 20s and 30s will face an atrial fibrillation diagnosis and while it is treatable, it can also be associated with other heart conditions when diagnosed at a younger age.

“For some people, the first time they roll into the ER with a stroke is the first time they ever heard they have atrial fibrillation,” said CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Mangaraju Chakka. “Many people will feel there’s something abnormal in their heart rhythm, but they may not be able to tell they have AFib.”

Regardless of the age when a patient is diagnosed, the risks associated with atrial fibrillation are very real. This irregular heart beat can lead to heart failure, blood clots or even a stroke.

Atrial Fibrillation Causes

Atrial fibrillation occurs when someone experiences rapid, disorganized electrical activity in the two upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria. Those pulses can range from between 300-to-600 beats per minute, compared to a normal resting heart rate that doesn’t exceed 100 beats per minute. These rapid signals cause the heart to contract quickly and irregularly, which is known as fibrillating. This irregularity causes blood to pool in the upper chambers instead of circulating into the heart’s two lower chambers. That leaves the heart’s upper and lower chambers out of sync and the heart begins to lose efficiency.

Atrial fibrillation diagnosis may be linked to hereditary in some rare cases, but anyone has a chance of developing this common heart condition. Still, certain risk factors increase the likelihood of someone developing atrial fibrillation. Some of those risk factors include:

  • Hypertension or uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Chronic conditions like diabetes, COPD, thyroid conditions and sleep apnea
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Other existing heart conditions like coronary artery disease or heart valve disease

Regardless of the cause of atrial fibrillation, it’s important to understand that while symptoms may last for a few minutes or hours before suddenly stopping, the heart arrhythmia itself is always present.

Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms and Signs

Not every heart arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation and some arrhythmias may be less or more concerning depending on other health factors. That means it is important to know and recognize atrial fibrillation symptoms and signs.

“It may be something very benign, like a little fluttering in the chest to a racing of the heart. You may feel your heart pounding or feel extra beats to symptoms like shortness of breath when you try to do things,” said Dr. Chakka. “Sometimes people may feel dizzy like they’re going to pass out.”

Dr. Chakka says the most important thing to do is to visit with your cardiologist for a diagnosis. Once you know what you have, you’ll understand whether it is serious or not and take the next steps with your cardiologist to determine the best atrial fibrillation treatment for you. If you do not already have a cardiologist or would like to learn more about this condition, the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute has a list of doctors who treat atrial fibrillation in Arkansas. You can also use CHI St. Vincent’s free, online tool to determine your risk for atrial fibrillation.