Our heart pumps blood to all body parts. It must beat at a regular speed to perform this function. If the organ beats fast or the beat is irregular, it means its upper chambers are not contracting correctly. This condition is called atrial fibrillation (AFib). AFib leads to inefficient blood circulation and an increased risk of clots. While not life-threatening, the condition can lead to complications like stroke. Here are the common causes of AFib.

1. Unusual electrical signals
Our heart has a region called the sinus node in the right atrium, which produces electrical signals. These signals direct the organ to contract and release as it pumps blood around the clock. If the sinus node generates unusual signals, the upper chambers contract irregularly, and the lower chambers can no longer be in sync with them. This damage in the signaling process makes a person’s heartbeat irregular and fast.

2. Underlying heart diseases
Cardiovascular conditions like coronary heart disease or hypertension can change how the heart sends and receives electric signals. These changes can cause AFib. Hence, people with these underlying heart diseases should go for regular checkups to detect complications like AFib early. Those who have had a stroke should also be cautious because they, too, are at risk of AFib; stroke and AFib usually coexist.

3. Changes or damage to heart tissue
If the heart tissue is scarred or damaged, it can cause irregular or fast heartbeat. Heart tissue damage can occur due to fat accumulation in the organ. Fibrosis or scarring can happen because of coronary heart disease, hypertension, aortic stenosis, or a heart attack. The scarring can disrupt the heart rhythm, leading to AFib.

4. Underlying conditions other than heart diseases
Diseases that are not related to the heart can also cause AFib. For instance, pneumonia, overactive thyroid disease, and viral infections can cause irregular heart rates. People diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, who may suddenly stop breathing while asleep, are also at risk of this heart condition. Other underlying diseases that can cause AFib include type 2 diabetes, COPD, asthma, and pulmonary embolism.

5. Unhealthy lifestyle habits
While steady and limited alcohol consumption may not directly lead to irregular heart rates, sudden binge drinking or non-stop drinking without eating can cause a problem. Drinking lots of caffeinated beverages like coffee or soda can also cause irregular heartbeat. Furthermore, obesity may lead to left atrial enlargement, which can alter the heart chambers’ contracting and release rhythm, leading to a faster or irregular heartbeat. Smoking is another lifestyle factor that can increase one’s risk. According to studies, smokers face a 14% higher risk compared to non-smokers. Smoking increases hypertension, narrows the arteries, and can also cause scarring of the heart tissue, each of which is a risk factor for AFib.

An irregular or fast heartbeat, palpitations, lightheadedness, and pressure or pain in the chest are a few symptoms of AFib. One may also experience unexplained fatigue and breathing problems while lying down. Those who develop these signs should see a healthcare provider immediately. The expert can determine the cause and recommend a treatment plan accordingly.