5 facts you need to know about atrial fibrillation (AFib)

| Written by Monica May
Heart-AFib-Sanford Burnham Prebys

It’s one of the most common heart rhythm disorders and a leading risk factor for stroke, but most people haven’t heard of it—that is, atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF. Below are five facts everyone should know about AFib. 

  1. Nearly 10 percent of people over the age of 65 develop AFib, and it can be deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is estimated that 12.1 million people in the United States will have AFib in 2030. In 2019, AFib was mentioned on 183,321 death certificates and was the underlying cause of death in 26,535 of those deaths.
  2. There is no cure. Current treatments include surgery to remove the malfunctioning heart tissue; medications that reduce the risk of stroke by thinning the blood, such as warfarin or other anticoagulants; or medications that slow the heart rate or rhythm. But scientists currently don’t know the cause of AFib. There is no cure. 
  3. Increased stroke risk makes AFib lethal. The irregular heartbeats that characterize AFib can cause blood to pool in the heart, and clot. If a blood clot travels to the brain, stroke may occur. About 15 to 20 percent of strokes are due to AFib, according to the American Heart Association.
  4. The Apple Watch can detect—but not diagnose—the condition. The Apple Watch can take an electrocardiogram and send a notification if an irregular heart rhythm is identified. However, only a doctor can diagnosis AFib. Apple has teamed up with Johnson & Johnson to determine if the wearable technology’s ability to detect AFib earlier improves diagnosis and patient outcomes.
  5. Fruit flies could unlock new AFib treatments. Believe it or not, the heart of a fruit fly—which is a tube—models early heart development. In a human, this tube folds into the four chambers of the heart. Combined with their short life cycle and simple genome, fruit flies are an excellent model of heart disease that could unlock new treatments, including those for AFib. Listen to how SBP scientists are using fruit flies to study AFib.

Additional AFib resources: 

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