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Atrial Fibrillation Risk Factors & Symptoms

Certain conditions can increase the risk for atrial fibrillation, while symptoms point to the type and severity of your arrhythmia.

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, our a-fib experts will work with you to learn more about your symptoms and the risk factors that contributed to your condition. This is critical in building a personalized treatment plan for you and your heart’s health.


The primary causes of atrial fibrillation are conditions that affect the heart’s structure. Arrhythmia experts may be able to prevent or treat atrial fibrillation by managing these underlying conditions.

The most common risk factors for atrial fibrillation are:

  • High blood pressure: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure stiffens the heart muscle and makes it difficult for blood to pump throughout the heart properly, causing irregular heartbeats. Learn more about high blood pressure.
  • Sleep apnea: During sleep apnea, oxygen levels in the body go low, and blood pressure goes high to help pump more blood and improve the delivery of oxygen. This puts a strain on the heart similar to hypertension.
  • Diabetes: A disease you can have from childhood or develop later in life, diabetes also creates stiffness of the heart muscle, as high blood sugar impacts heart cells. Learn more about diabetes.
  • Obesity:  Being overweight puts pressure on the heart, causing abnormal relaxation and enlargement of the left atrium. This causes scarring of the atrium and leads to an erratic heartbeat.


Symptoms of atrial fibrillation can resemble those of other heart disorders. If you experience any symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for an expert diagnosis.

There is a chance you may have atrial fibrillation and not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may experience:

  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to exercise
  • Chest discomfort or anxiety


To make an appointment with a Washington University atrial fibrillation specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 888.993.3291.