Who is at risk for atrial fibrillation, or AFib, and why does it matter?

Paid for by the Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A group of healthcare providers and advocacy experts explain what AFib is and how it can lead to stroke.

What if someone couldn’t depend on their heartbeat being a steady and dependable rhythm? An estimated 8 million Americans are projected to be affected by AFib in 2019.¹ ² AFib is the most common type of arrhythmia — or irregular rhythm — of the heart, and it has the potential to cause further complications, like stroke.¹

A known risk factor for developing AFib is advancing age: in fact, an estimated 9% of people age 65 and older have AFib.¹ However, a history of certain heart disease or conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart failure, diabetes, obesity, heavy alcohol use and other factors can also increase a person's risk for developing AFib.¹

Dr. Rod Passman, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University and a cardiac electrophysiologist who specializes in abnormalities in heart rhythm, summarized the condition: “Let's say your average heartbeat is 72 beats per minute — if you live to 80, that's a few billion heartbeats.” He went on to explain, “For some, abnormalities may develop as they get older. With AFib, the top portion, or upper chambers, of the heart can beat very, very rapidly and irregularly.”¹

AFib symptoms can vary, sometimes described as a "fluttering" heart feeling. Symptoms can include lightheadedness, shortness of breath and general tiredness, which can be more subtle.¹ However, some people do not feel any symptoms at all.¹ These symptoms may be worth keeping in mind, especially among those with advancing age or other risk factors.

Mellanie True Hills, CEO of StopAfib.org and patient advocate, started AFib Awareness Month to drive awareness of AFib and AFib-related stroke.

"When I was in AFib, my heart felt like a flopping fish or an unbalanced washing machine in my chest," she said. "But some people may not experience any of the usual AFib symptoms, or even any symptoms at all."

Apart from the AFib episodes themselves, the complications that can arise from AFib, such as stroke, are concerning.¹

“A major concern around AFib is that it can increase your risk of stroke by four to five times,”¹ Passman said. “And that's because, in AFib, the top portion of the heart is beating so rapidly and irregularly, blood can pool and form clots in the heart. If those clots dislodge or break off and go to the brain, it can cause a stroke.”

It’s important to maintain general wellness, stay on track with routine check-ups, and keep AFib and stroke risk in mind as you age.

Hills encouraged aging adults and those at higher risk of AFib to learn more about the condition and associated stroke risk by asking a doctor or other healthcare provider about AFib during routine care.

Sources and further reading:

  • 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Atrial fibrillation fact sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_atrial_fibrillation.htm. Accessed March 1, 2019.

  • 2. Colilla S, Crow A, Petkun W, Singer DE, Simon T, Liu X. Estimates of current and future incidence and prevalence of atrial fibrillation in the U.S. adult population. Am J Cardiol. 2013;112(8):1142–1147.

From the Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance:

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is projected to impact approximately 8 million people in the United States in 2019.¹ ² Furthermore, AFib increases risk of stroke.¹ Through the Matter of Moments initiative, the Bristol-Myers Squibb-Pfizer Alliance aims to drive awareness of AFib and the associated risk of stroke by collaborating with expert healthcare professionals and advocacy organizations to provide resources that will help those at risk and their loved ones take charge of their health by talking to their doctor. To learn more, visit the Matter of Moments website.