Atrial fibrillation and heart failure

Atrial fibrillation (or AFib) alone is not a life threatening condition, but it can lead to an increased risk of stroke and an increased risk of heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart doesn’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. 

In AFib, the heart doesn’t beat properly, which means it also can’t fill up completely to pump blood to the body. When the heart doesn’t pump efficiently, other problems can occur, such as blood backing up into the pulmonary veins and causing fluid to build up in the lungs. Fluid can also build up in the feet, ankles, and legs. 

The rapid heartbeat associated with AFib can also damage the heart muscles over time, which further contributes to heart failure. 

The two issues are so closely related that some patients will be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and heart failure at the same time. Symptoms are typically worse for patients diagnosed with both conditions. 

The risk factors for AFib and heart failure are similar and include: 

  • Age, with risk increasing as you get older.
  • Genetics, with specific differences that impact risk. 
  • Gender, with men being at higher risk than women. 
  • Heart disease, including coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, heart valve problems, and myocarditis.
  • Other health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
  • Smoking or drinking alcohol.

Some risk factors are beyond your control, such as age, genetics, and gender. But lifestyle changes and proper management of other health conditions can help reduce your risk for both AFib and heart failure. 

If you have been diagnosed with AFib or heart failure, talk to your Oklahoma Heart Hospital physician about how to best manage either condition to reduce the risk of developing the other. If you have not been diagnosed but have any of the risk factors, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.