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Should I worry about atrial fibrillation if my tests are otherwise normal?

Howard E. Lewine, MD
Hospitalist
Atrial fibrillation is a type of cardiac arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rate or rhythm). This type causes a rapid and irregular heartbeat. The upper two chambers of the heart (the atria) quiver or "fibrillate" instead of beating normally.

In general, atrial fibrillation is not a dangerous rhythm. Many people have it and have no symptoms. It can be discovered when someone checks the person's pulse.

You likely have "lone" atrial fibrillation. This term is for people who have the condition but no detectable heart disease. They also don't drink alcohol excessively and do not take any stimulants.

Until recently, doctors didn't worry about "lone" atrial fibrillation, especially in otherwise healthy younger people. The main risk of this condition is stroke in older people or those with other medical problems. The risk is highest in people over age 75 and in those with high blood pressure, heart failure and/or diabetes. Younger people without any of these conditions have only a slightly higher than average risk of stroke.

However, new research suggests that we should pay more attention to "lone" atrial fibrillation. The research found that it is associated with future heart failure and heart attack, in addition to the slight increased risk of stroke.

Everyone with atrial fibrillation should have an echocardiogram. I would also want to know that you had a blood test to check your thyroid. An over active thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can cause atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation should be considered a cardiac risk factor. It's one more reason to pursue a healthy lifestyle:
  • Don't smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Stay physically active.
  • Keep your blood pressure within the normal range.
  • Try to lower your total and LDL cholesterol.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.