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Atrial fibrillation: Not always an older person’s condition

May 16, 2024—Atrial fibrillation (AF) is often associated with adults over age 65. But a new study has discovered that AF may be more common than previously thought among younger adults. That's concerning because AF can lead to serious health problems, such as stroke, heart failure and fatigue.

AF is a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. It happens when the heart's electrical impulses don't fire in their normal, coordinated way. Uncoordinated impulses cause the heart’s chambers to quiver, or fibrillate, and this produces the irregular heartbeat.

AF risks are starting sooner

The risk for developing AF rises with age, according to the American Heart Association. It's most common in adults over age 65. But AF is becoming increasingly common in younger patients. And when researchers examined the records of 67,221 adults with AF over a 10-year period, they found that nearly a quarter of patients involved in the study were under 65.

That may be because non-age-related AF risk factors are becoming more common. The researchers found that obesity was common in patients younger than 65. So were other AF risk factors, including:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Smoking.
  • Diabetes.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Sleep apnea.

Even among younger patients, AF was linked to serious health problems. Compared to people younger than 65 without AF, those who had it were more likely to experience:

  • Heart failure.
  • Stroke.
  • Heart attack.

And, compared to people without the condition, people under 65 had a 42% higher risk of death during the study period.

Treatment can help

Treatment for AF can help prevent serious outcomes, such as stroke, so it's important to recognize the signs. According to the AHA, the symptoms of AF include:

  • A fluttering feeling in the chest.
  • A fast, irregular heartbeat.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Confusion.
  • Sweating.

If those symptoms sound familiar, let your doctor know.

According to the AHA, many people with AF don’t experience any symptoms—and don't know they have the condition. So it's important to ask your doctor about your risk for AF and other chronic conditions—and what you can do to lower it.

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