Press your hand against your chest. Those little thumps you feel are your heart pumping, moving blood into and out of its chambers and through the rest of your body.
Normally, the top part of your heart (the atria) squeezes first, then the bottom part (the ventricles). The timing of these contractions is what moves the blood. But for more than 2 million Americans, the electrical signals that control this system are off-kilter. Instead of working together, the atria do their own thing. This fast, fluttering heartbeat, what doctors call arrhythmia, is atrial fibrillation, or AFib.
More than annoying, it can be serious. Because your blood isn’t moving well, you’re at greater risk for heart failure. That’s when your heart can’t keep up with the needs of your body. Blood can also pool your heart and form clots. If one gets stuck in your brain, you can have a stroke.
Who Gets It?
Anyone can have AFib, but it’s more common for people who are ages 60 and older.
Other heart problems can make it more likely:
1. Heart disease due to high blood pressure
2. Heart valve disease
3. Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
4. Heart defect from birth (congenital heart defect)
5. Heart failure
6. Past heart surgery
People with certain medical conditions have a greater chance, too:
7. Long-term lung disease (such as COPD)
8. Overactive thyroid gland
9. Sleep apnea