Causes of atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation – also known as AF or AFib – is a common heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally rapid heart rhythm (arrhythmia). While anybody can develop AF, there are some things that may increase your chance of developing it.1

Watch a short animation on what causes AF

Your gender, age, and weight can play a role1-3

If you are male, older, and overweight, you are more likely to develop AF.1-3

Your medical history can also increase your risk1,3

If you have one or more of the pre-existing medical conditions given below, you are more likely to develop AF:

  • Asthma1
  • Diabetes1
  • Heart disease – including heart valve problems, congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, or a history of heart attack or heart surgery1,3
  • High blood pressure1,3
  • High-dose steroid therapy4
  • Lung disease – including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, emphysema, or a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism)1,3
  • Obesity2
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)1,3
  • Recent operation(s)3
  • Sleep apnoea3

Episodes of AF can also be triggered by environmental factors, like diet or exercise1

Be aware of what may trigger an AF episode for you – for example:1

  • Alcohol1
  • Caffeinated drinks1
  • Smoking1
  • Illegal drugs, especially stimulants1
  • Physical or mental stress3

If you know your triggers, you can try to reduce your exposure to them.1

You may have somebody else in your family with AF2,3

Although AF is not typically seen as a genetic condition, there is increasing evidence that it can run in families.2,3 Your doctor may ask to screen you for AF if you have somebody else in your family with the condition, even if you show no other risk factors.

Sometimes AF can develop without explanation1-3

Although most people with AF will have one of the existing risk factors or triggers, you can be physically fit, healthy and still develop AF. Your doctor may refer to this as lone AF or idiopathic AF.1–3

Whatever the cause of AF, it’s useful to speak to your doctor

Together, you and your doctor can create a treatment plan that takes your potential triggers into account.

1. NHS. Atrial fibrillation – causes. April 2018. Available at Last accessed November 2020. 

2. Kalstø SM et al. Front Cardiovasc Med 2019; doi: 10.3389/fcvm.2019.00127. 

3. Mayo Clinic. Atrial fibrillation. June 2019. Available at Last accessed November 2020. 

4. Christiansen CF et al.  Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169: 1677–1683.

PP-ELI-HKG-0641 JUN 2021