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How does atrial fibrillation cause heart failure?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Certain arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation, can lead to very serious problems such as heart failure. With heart failure, your heart pumps blood inefficiently for a lengthy period because of the rapid heart rate of atrial fibrillation. When your heart rate is extremely high, the heart muscle becomes overworked and inefficient in pumping blood. Bradycardia, a slow heartbeat, can also cause the heart to work ineffectively. There are medications that can help your heart function better with heart failure. Even controlling the heart rate with atrial fibrillation can boost your heart function. If treatment is not sought immediately for heart failure, the outcome can be fatal.

Atrial fibrillation can cause heart failure, particularly if atrial fibrillation is not well controlled. The reason for concern is that atrial fibrillation with an uncontrolled rapid heart rate can weaken the heart muscle, eventually making the heart chronically unable to circulate enough blood to meet the body's needs.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) can lead to heart failure because the ventricles are beating very fast and can't completely fill with blood. Thus, they may not be able to pump enough blood to the lungs and body. Heart failure occurs if the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.

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This is because atrial fibrillation reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively by about 20 percent to 25 percent.

Dr. Mohammad E. Mortada, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Atrial fibrillation (AF) causes the lower heart chambers (ventricles) to beat rapidly and irregularly, decreasing the heart’s ability to pump blood, causing heart failure. Long periods (weeks to months) of rapid AF stresses the heart muscle. Over time, this may decrease the heart’s ability to pump blood. In patients who already have low heart pump function, AF can increase the incidence of heart failure by more than 20%. Treating AF can help improve the heart’s pumping function. AF can occur even in a person with no heart disease. In these cases of “lone atrial fibrillation,” heart function can still weaken. Because the heart is otherwise healthy, treating AF can help the pump function get better and even help it return to normal.

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