What Are the Risks of Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation and stroke are synonymous with one another. Patients with atrial fibrillation are five to seven times more likely of having a stroke than patients without AFib. Patients are also at a higher risk of developing congestive heart failure, have a three times higher risk of hospitalization and are twice as likely to die of sudden cardiac death.

The loss of normal atrial contraction of the heart causes pooling of blood, allowing blood clots to form in the atria, or upper chamber of the heart. The area of the heart known as the left atrial appendage, is particularly prone to blood pooling and clot formation.  If a clot breaks loose, it can be pumped out of the heart and become lodged in an artery of the brain, cutting off blood supply to the nerve cells of the brain. The brain cannot get the blood it needs to and starts to die. This is called a stroke, which is a stroke is a medical emergency.

Fifteen to 20 percent of all strokes occur in people with AFib.  Of those, approximately 90 perent of them come from the left atrial appendage. Thus, the left atrial appendage is removed as part of surgical ablation for A-fib patients to help prevent the clots that cause strokes.

Other Risks of Uncontrolled Atrial Fibrillation Include: 

Heart failure results when your heart is overworked and atrial fibrillation makes your heart work too hard.  The longer your heart is in AFib, the weaker your heart muscle becomes.  Prolonged AFib often leads to heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the needs of all the body tissues. Heart failure can lead to a progressive decline in heart health and your quality of life.

Over time, AFib can cause the heart to change shape and size.  The atria, upper chambers of the heart, progressively enlarge.  An enlarged heart can make treatment more difficulty and less successful.  Hence, the sooner atrial fibrillation is treated, the better. 

Atrial fibrillation by itself doubles one’s risk of death, but when it occurs in patients with other medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart failure and high blood pressure, the risk of death increases further.