Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm (electrical) problem that occurs when the top half of the heart quivers in a very fast and uncoordinated way. The top half of the heart is made up of two chambers—the right and left atrium—which normally pump in perfect timing with the bottom half of the heart. During atrial fibrillation, however, the right and left atrium race as fast as they possibly can, in a chaotic, irregular pattern.
Atrial fibrillation becomes more common as a person gets older. By the age of 65, one in 20 people will have at least one episode of atrial fibrillation, and by the age of 80, over 1 in 10 people will have atrial fibrillation. Children almost never get atrial fibrillation.
Risk Factors for Atrial Fibrillation
Aside from increasing age, there are medical conditions that are associated with a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, including high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, lung disease, sleep apnea, being overweight, heart conditions (including prior heart attack, heart valve disease, heart defects present since birth, and a variety of other heart problems), congestive heart failure and kidney failure. There are also a variety of situations that can temporarily increase the chances for atrial fibrillation, including alcohol use, caffeine, smoking, heart surgery, pneumonia, other fever/illness/infections, abnormal electrolytes, esophageal reflux, anemia (low blood counts), and even being over-tired or stressed.