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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Zambakari

Atrial fibrillation

Updated: May 16, 2023

The most common arrhythmia in clinical practice is atrial fibrillation (AF). With advancing age, the prevalence and incidence of atrial fibrillation increases in the human population. The prevalence of atrial fibrillation can be seen in developed countries, particularly in people over 65. In recent years, with the continuing increase in life expectancy, AF is thought to take an epidemic dimension. Furthermore, because many patients are diagnosed with AF during routine clinical exams, it is critical to conduct thorough population testing. Many aspects also linked to the development of AF include male sex, central obesity, thyroid issues, previous heart failure and other cardiovascular problems. Hypertension is a known risk factor for AF that should be treated as well.

Atrial fibrillation

Other heart disorders, including cardiac arrest, coronary artery disease (CAD), valvular heart disease, diabetes mellitus and hypertension show correlations with atrial fibrillation. AF is characterized by a fast and irregular pulse. The specific processes by which cardiovascular risk factors lead to AF are unknown. However, they are being studied extensively. Elevated catecholamines, metabolic stress, hemodynamic stress, atrial ischemia, atrial inflammation and activation of the neurohumoral cascade are all thought to contribute to AF.

Desert Haven Home Care and Apollo Residential Assisted Living provide residents with high-quality supervision and treatment reflective of what we believe should be the three cornerstones of managed care for seniors: meaningful, patient-centered care, service and advocacy. Our staff and professional healthcare practitioners are knowledgeable and respected servants, familiar with the latest evidence-based research and outcomes. As we continue to provide our residents with best-quality care, service and advocacy, we are sharing with you through our websites these timely and topical insights into issues that impact our elderly loved ones. And, while atrial fibrillation can be a serious health challenge, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risks associated with the disease and to slow its progress, which are discussed below.

What is atrial fibrillation?

Mayo Clinic describes atrial fibrillation (AF/AFib) as “an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase your risk of strokes, heart failure and other heart-related complications.” AF occurs when the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) are out of sync with its two lower chambers (ventricles), causing heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness.

Further, Mayo notes: “Episodes of atrial fibrillation may come and go, or you may develop atrial fibrillation that doesn't go away and may require treatment. Although atrial fibrillation itself usually isn't life-threatening, it is a serious medical condition that sometimes requires emergency treatment.”

What are symptoms of AF?

Patients of AFib sometimes have no idea they are suffering from this condition. They may show no symptoms. On the other hand, some people experience the following symptoms:

  • Chest pains

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Lightheadedness

  • Palpitations of the heart (pounding, fluttering)

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Shortness of breath

Are there risk factors associated with AF?

Yes. The following are the factors that increase the risk of atrial fibrillation development:

Age: The risk of developing AF increases with age.

Heart disease: The risk of AF is higher in patients who suffer from existing heart problems like coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart valve problems, history of heart attack, congenital heart disease and previous heart surgery.

High blood pressure: High blood pressure, without the appropriate medication or lifestyle changes, increases the chances of AF.

Other chronic conditions: Thyroid disorders, sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, chronic renal disease, and lung illness are associated with an elevated risk of AF.

Drinking alcohol: Consuming alcohol can cause an episode of atrial fibrillation in certain persons. Heavy drinking increases your risk of AF development.

Obesity: The prevalence of AF is higher in obese people.

Family history: In certain families, there is a greater probability of atrial fibrillation.

Are there complications of AF?

Yes. Says the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: “When it is undetected or untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to serious complications. This is especially significant for African Americans. Even though whites have (AF) at higher rates, research has found that many of its complications — including stroke, blood clots, heart failure and even cognitive impairment and dementia — are more common among African Americans.” Some complications of AFib include:

Stroke: The irregular rhythm in AF can allow blood to collect in the heart’s upper chambers and create clots. If a blood clot develops in the heart, it may detach and go to the brain. It may obstruct blood flow, resulting in a stroke. In AF, the chances of stroke are affected by increasing age and whether you have high blood pressure, diabetes, a history of heart failure or a prior stroke, as well as other variables. Blood thinners, for example, can significantly reduce the chance of a stroke or other organ damage associated with blood clots.

Blood clots: An abnormal blood clot is formed when the heart is unable to pump out blood properly, causing it to pool. The serious danger of such a clot occurs when a piece of the clot breaks off and travels through the blood to different parts of the body, blocking blood flow to the brain, lungs, intestine, spleen or kidneys. AF may also increase the risk of venous thromboembolism, which is a blood clot that forms in a vein.

Heart failure: If left untreated, AF can damage the heart and cause a heart attack; the heart is unable to pump enough blood to fulfill your body's demands.

Cognitive impairment: The Heart, Lung and Blood Institute notes that “Some studies suggest that impaired cognition, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia occur more often among people with atrial fibrillation. This may be due to blockages in the blood vessels of the brain or reduced blood flow to the brain.”

What are the causes of AF?

The human heart has four chambers: two atria and two ventricles.

Whenever the heart chambers don't operate properly or are out of sync because of incorrect electrical communication, AF occurs. The atria and ventricles usually contract at the same rate. The atria and ventricles are out of sync with AF because the contraction of the atria is rapid and erratic.

Sometimes, AF has unknown causes. The following are the conditions that are harmful to the heart and cause AF:

  • Hypertension

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Heart surgery

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Heavy alcohol consumption

  • Thyroid problems

  • Heart valve disease

  • Congenital heart defects (by birth heart defects)

  • Pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac-like covering of the heart

A healthy lifestyle may reduce the chances of developing AFib. However, not all factors may be avoided. It's critical to talk with your doctor and share your full medical history so they can discover the AFib cause and treat it more effectively.

Are there treatments for AF?

Yes. First, if you are asymptomatic, no treatment is required. In fact, AF may be occasional; symptoms come and go and may go away on their own, or you may require treatment. AF may be persistent; your heart rhythm does not go back on its own and requires treatment. AF may be long-standing persistent; continuous and lasting longer than 12 months. AF may be permanent; a regular heart rhythm cannot be restored, requiring treatment to control your heart rate and prevent blood clots.

As scientists continue to research and improve treatments, some of the medicines used to control AF are designed to:

  • Decrease the heart rate; beta-blockers are prescribed

  • Prevent blood clot formation; blood thinners are prescribed

  • Increase the rate of heart contractions; digitalis glycosides are prescribed

  • Decrease overall heart rate and relax arterial muscles; calcium channel blockers are prescribed

  • Control heart rhythm; potassium and sodium channel blockers are prescribed

The goal of AFib medicines is to return the heart rate to normal and improve your overall heart function. Blood clots and further complications such as a stroke or heart attack can be prevented with the help of medications. Several AFib drugs may be recommended by your doctor, depending on your circumstances.


The material presented on this blog does not constitute medical advice. We encourage you to consult your primary care physician. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice. If you or your loved one is considering the benefits of quality assisted living, please contact us at 602-670-9326, or email us at

About the Authors

Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.

Dr. Zambakari is the owner and operator of Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix and Apollo Assisted Living in Glendale. A recognized leader in managed-care assisted living advocacy on behalf of the elderly, Zambakari provides experienced direction and oversight to ensure the care facilities provide the highest levels of customized care, administered by respectful licensed medical and caregiving professionals.

Nathalia Zambakari, Board Certified AGACNP-BC

Nathalia Zambakari is a board-certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and a licensed medical professional responsible for short-term care patients suffering from severe conditions. As part of the Desert Haven/Apollo care team, she reviews the medical records of incoming residents, helping the professional staff to manage patient regimens. She leads evidence-based caregiver education to ensure the best care possible for the Desert Haven and Apollo residential communities’ residents.


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