What is the life expectancy of atrial fibrillation?


In the case of atrial fibrillation, life expectancy depends on the form of the cardiac arrhythmia and treatment options. If, in addition to atrial fibrillation, cardiac disease is present, life expectancy is lower than that of healthy heart. However, due to the treatment options available today, life expectancy is significantly higher than it was 50 years ago.

Does atrial fibrillation reduce my life expectancy?

There are several forms of atrial fibrillation that are based on different causes. Life expectancy depends heavily on concomitant heart disease.

Coronary heart disease ( CHD ) is the leading cause of atrial fibrillation and can be positively influenced by a healthy lifestyle. With a weakened heart and atrial fibrillation the mortality is increased. If you are younger than 65 years old and suffer from atrial fibrillation and is otherwise healthy, you have a similar life expectancy despite the fibrillation as people without atrial fibrillation.

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Which forms of atrial fibrillation affect my life expectancy particularly negatively?

A distinction is made between atrial fibrillation according to the time and duration of occurrence in:

  • Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (occurs by accident and disappears by itself)
  • Persistent atrial fibrillation (lasts longer than 7 days, can be treated)
  • Permanent atrial fibrillation (persistent and resistant to therapy)

The paroxysmal atrial fibrillation ( paroxysmal = seizure-like ) occurs suddenly and usually disappears within 48 hours and within 7 days on its own. Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation remains very often undetected. It is believed that people with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation have a similar risk of stroke as patients with permanent atrial fibrillation. The symptoms may be nonspecific in atrial fibrillation: irregular heartbeat and pulse, dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath, inner restlessness or fatigue. This often overlooks this form, which quickly disappears on its own. Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation can become chronic over time.

Persistent atrial fibrillation ( persistent = persisting ) lasts more than 7 days and can be stopped by medical means. Prolonged persistent atrial fibrillation can last for more than one year without treatment. This form of the disease is usually treated by drug or electrical cardioversion.

    Permanent atrial fibrillation ( permanent = permanent ) is diagnosed if persistence of atrial fibrillation is accepted by the patient and no treatment is performed to normalize the rhythm. If atrial fibrillation lasts longer than 48 hours, the risk of developing a blood clot is greatly increased. The blood clots can come loose and be swept away by the vessels, they can then cause vascular occlusions ( embolisms ). If there is an embolism or even a stroke, it is bad for life expectancy. Therefore, it is important to diagnose atrial fibrillation early and to treat it specifically with possibly blood thinning and rhythm restoration. The duration of atrial fibrillation is therefore particularly important for life expectancy, as it has a major impact on the risk of embolism and stroke. Long-lasting atrial fibrillation without treatment has a negative effect on life expectancy.

    It is also possible to differentiate atrial fibrillation into "classic valvular atrial fibrillation" and "non-valvular atrial fibrillation" ( valvular = a heart valve ). This historical subdivision establishes an association of atrial fibrillation with diseased changes in the heart valves. In "classic valvular atrial fibrillation, " there is atrial fibrillation in mitral stenosis ( mitral stenosis ) or after mechanical heart valve replacement. These heart valve diseases, which are associated with this definition, have an increased risk of thromboembolic events compared to "non-valvular atrial fibrillation".

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    What can I do to positively influence my life expectancy if there is atrial fibrillation?

    In order to have a positive influence on the life expectancy of existing atrial fibrillation, two points are important: appropriate therapy and a healthy lifestyle. If atrial fibrillation is known, a cardiologist must be visited regularly and the heart thoroughly examined. It is important that inspection visits are taken seriously. If you get medication you have to take it as prescribed by the doctor.

    In addition, a healthy lifestyle plays an important role. When the heart is healthy, it significantly improves the life expectancy of atrial fibrillation. For a healthy heart, a well-balanced, healthy diet and regular exercise are extremely healthy. Alcohol and nicotine should be avoided as much as possible. Poor eating, lack of exercise, alcohol and cigarettes promote the development of vascular calcification ( atherosclerosis ) and finally coronary heart disease (CHD), the main risk factor of atrial fibrillation. A healthy lifestyle will help the heart effectively and overall, it will have a very favorable effect on life expectancy.

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    Can a pacemaker increase my life expectancy?

    The life expectancy of patients with a pacemaker in atrial fibrillation has improved significantly in the last thirty years. Pacemaker operations are routinely performed in German hospitals and pacemaker devices typically detect life-threatening heart actions reliably, so pacemakers relieve arrhythmias through targeted electrical stimulation. The pacemakers control the heart rhythm and correct existing arrhythmias. Rhythm control and therapy using the pacemaker can prevent dangerous complications of atrial fibrillation, such as embolism and strokes, and positively affect life expectancy.

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    Can blood thinning positively affect my life expectancy?

    Blood-thinning drugs are indicated for atrial fibrillation when there is a risk of embolism and stroke. In the worst case, embolism and stroke can be fatal or cause severe disabilities that negatively impact life expectancy. If you have atrial fibrillation and are at increased risk for embolism and strokes, blood thinning can definitely positively affect your life expectancy.

    If I do everything optimally, can I increase my life expectancy to a normal level?

    It is not possible to prevent atrial fibrillation in itself, but to favorably influence diseases that cause atrial fibrillation. A well-balanced diet, exercise, and abstinence from alcohol, nicotine, and so on significantly reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, the main risk of atrial fibrillation. A healthy lifestyle has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system and can increase life expectancy.

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