Without treatment, atrial fibrillation (A-fib) can lower a person’s life expectancy due to the risk of serious complications. However, with proper treatment, people with A-fib can often lead long, healthy lives.
Heart rhythm involves a synchronized pumping action, or beating, of the four chambers of the heart.
Irregular heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, occur when electrical signals that coordinate the heartbeat do not work properly. This can cause the heart to have an irregular and erratic rhythm.
A-fib is the most common type of irregular heart rhythm. It happens when the heart’s upper chambers, or atria, quiver due to irregular electrical activity.
This article explores the outlook and life expectancy of a person with A-fib. It also discusses the complications of A-fib, how doctors treat the condition, and ways to prevent it.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Research suggests that the outlook for people with A-fib has
A-fib in itself
- a person’s age and sex
- other health conditions
- the severity of A-fib
- its response to treatment
It can also lead to serious complications that can be fatal. Mortality rates are
Sex, symptom presentation, and age
The outlook is the same regardless of whether a person experiences symptoms or not. However, a person without symptoms may not receive an early diagnosis of A-fib and therefore experience a delay in treatment.
Older people are at a
Comorbidities, or accompanying conditions, play a role in the progression of A-fib and the development of complications. A
A 2017 study found that those with A-fib and diabetes had a higher risk of death and heart failure than people with stroke.
A doctor may prescribe anticoagulant medications that prevent blood clots from forming and
Research also indicates that
A 2022 study found that people receiving early heart rhythm control treatment, such as antiarrhythmic drugs, had a lower risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes. However, this treatment may benefit younger individuals more than those over 75 years old.
People with A-fib may have an irregular and fluttery heartbeat that prevents the lower heart chambers from filling completely. When this happens, the heart may not pump enough blood to the lungs and the rest of the body, leading to heart failure.
Aside from stroke and heart failure, A-fib is a
A doctor will decide on the most appropriate treatment for someone based on individual factors, such as:
- the type of A-fib
- underlying causes
- overall health
- maintaining a moderate weight
- seeking support to stop using certain substances
- avoiding or limiting alcohol and stimulants, such as caffeine
- quitting smoking
- managing stress
- eating a heart-healthy diet
Several medications can also help with A-fib by preventing and treating blood clots and managing the heart’s rate and rhythm.
Medication options may
- anticoagulant drugs to reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke
- medications that slow down the heart rate, such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers
- rhythm control medications to treat the heart’s irregular rhythm, such as sodium and potassium channel blockers
Procedures or surgery
The doctor may recommend a procedure if lifestyle changes and medications do not improve a person’s symptoms. These may include:
The American Heart Association identified
- managing high blood pressure
- stopping smoking
- maintaining a moderate weight
- exercising regularly
- preventing and managing diabetes
- managing cholesterol levels
- adopting a healthy diet
A-fib may not be a life threatening condition by itself, but without treatment, it can affect a person’s life expectancy due to the increased risk of complications such as stroke and heart failure.
A person may make lifestyle changes and take medications to manage the condition and prevent further complications. A doctor may suggest a person has surgery or other procedures if lifestyle changes and medications do not improve a person’s outlook.