Does atrial fibrillation run in families?

Answer From Peter Noseworthy, M.D.

It can. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart rhythm disorder. It causes irregular and chaotic heartbeats that can lead to stroke. AFib that is passed down through families (inherited) is called familial atrial fibrillation.

It's not known how many people have familial atrial fibrillation (familial AFib). But researchers have identified genetic changes linked to the condition.

Usually, common risk factors lead to atrial fibrillation. For example, the risk of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age. Other things that increase the chances of developing AFib are:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • High blood pressure
  • Male gender
  • Obesity

But about 3 in 10 people with AFib have no identifiable risk factors. Researchers think gene changes may play a role in these cases. If you have familial atrial fibrillation, you may get it earlier in life than do those without a family history of the condition.

Understanding the genetics of atrial fibrillation is important. It could lead to screening tests to better identify and treat those at risk of AFib as they grow older. But more research is needed.

If someone in your family has atrial fibrillation and you're concerned about your risk, talk with a health care provider. AFib is a serious medical condition that requires proper treatment to prevent stroke. Early diagnosis can help prevent complications. A simple test called an electrocardiogram (ECG) can be done to check the heart rhythm. Sometimes, a heart monitor is worn for a few days at home.

You might not be able to prevent familial atrial fibrillation. But lifestyle changes can help keep your heart as healthy as possible. Try these strategies:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Manage weight.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily.

With

Peter Noseworthy, M.D.

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Oct. 11, 2022 See more Expert Answers