One of the most common types of cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) is atrial fibrillation (AFib). It occurs when the electrical signals in the heart are triggered out of sync which results in irregular and often very fast heart rates. Unfortunately, AFib can shorten life expectancy, but luckily, early diagnosis and effective treatment can help enhance it.
And, although atrial fibrillation affects overall health and life expectancy in many ways, the mortality rate of people suffering from AFib mainly depends on:
- Type of AFib and severity
- Whether AFib is intermittent or constant
- Patient’s age
- Other health conditions
- AFib treatment
AFib Life Expectancy Facts
In general, the mortality rate is four times higher in those with AFib compared to people who don’t have this type of cardiac arrhythmia. But, the specific cause of death differs from patient to patient.
Namely, the high mortality rates aren’t necessarily directly linked to atrial fibrillation, but to the complications that come along with it. Precisely speaking, the most common causes of AFib-related death include
- heart failure
- cardiovascular events such as ischemic heart disease
- cerebral infarcts or ischemic stroke
- circulation disorders
What’s more, any of these complications can develop depending on the AFib treatment and the effects it has on heart function.
Also worth mentioning, older adults make up the largest portion of AFib patients whose deaths are linked to this arrhythmia. Yet, the mortality rates in younger adults have continuously increased since 2011, mainly due to the increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure among this age group.
Another interesting fact is that there are also demographic differences linked to reduced AFib life expectancy. In other words, White men have the highest mortality rates, followed by Black men, White women, and black women. Plus, people of European descent have a higher risk of developing AFib. However, recent research suggests that the lower numbers among Black men and women are simply because AFib remains undiagnosed.
Last but not least, it’s important to keep in mind that AFib symptoms aren’t always noticeable. Many cases of Afib go undiagnosed as a result of this fact. In general, symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular heart rate, lightheadedness, fatigue, and a fluttering sensation in the chest. Still, a person may have atrial fibrillation without experiencing, i.e. noticing, any of these symptoms.
Atrial Fibrillation Treatment for Heart Health
Generally speaking, the overall life expectancy of AFib patients depends on a couple of factors including the underlying cause of AFib, age of diagnosis, and type of AFib. But, as we already said, with the right treatment people with atrial fibrillation can expect to live a long healthy life.
The first step towards enhancing atrial fibrillation life expectancy is adopting lifestyle changes that improve heart health. Such changes include:
- following a heart-healthy diet
- practicing regular exercise
- quitting smoking
- losing weight
- managing stress
- avoiding alcohol
However, introducing heart-healthy lifestyle changes isn’t enough to successfully manage the condition. Therefore, a combination of medications for heart rate control and blood clot prevention is usually needed.
Finally, for the most severe cases of AFib, more intensive treatments may be needed such as catheter ablation to destroy damaged heart tissue, electrical cardioversion to reset heart rhythm, or a pacemaker to control heart rhythm.