Is AFib Genetic?

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a condition in which the heart loses its regular rhythm and beats too fast. It is a type of arrhythmia (uh-RITH-me-uh). Other types of arrhythmia make the heart beat too slowly, skip a beat, or beat in a combination of too fast and then too slow.1,2

Some people with AFib have no symptoms. For those who do, AFib symptoms include:1

  • Feeling like your heart is racing, fluttering, or pounding even when you are not exercising
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness

AFib may happen at any age. It may cause stroke or even sudden death. But some people have no complications.1

Who gets AFib?

AFib is the most common type of arrhythmia. About 3 million people in the United States have AFib.1

Certain things increase your risk of developing AFib, including:3

  • Older age
  • Diabetes
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heavy use of alcohol
  • High blood pressure
  • Being male
  • Being obese

Out of people who have AFib:1

  • Two-thirds have 1 or more of these risk factors
  • One-third have no known risk factors

Doctors believe people who have no known risk factors may have inherited their condition from a family member. AFib sometimes runs in families, and certain genes are linked to AFib.1

When AFib runs in a family it is called familial atrial fibrillation. People with familial AFib may develop the condition earlier than people without a family history of the condition.1,3

Genes linked to familial AFib

Doctors believe most people with familial AFib develop the condition because of a combination of their genes, lifestyle, and environment. But there are also some rare single genes and combinations of genetic changes that are known to cause familial AFib.1

The first gene linked to familial AFib was KCNQ1. A change (mutation) in this gene disrupts the chemical messengers that cause electric signals that control the heartbeat. Only 1 parent needs to pass along their change in KCNQ1 for the child to inherit AFib.1

These days, scientists have linked about 140 different genes to familial AFib.4

How is AFib diagnosed?

Your heart rhythm can be checked with a quick, simple test called an electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG can be done in your doctor’s office.5

The doctor will attach electrodes to your chest, arms, and legs. The electrodes have cables that connect to the ECG machine. In seconds, your doctor will have the results and can tell how well your heart is beating.5

Other things to know

If someone in your family has AFib, talk with your doctor about your risk. Getting diagnosed early may help you avoid serious complications.3

If AFib runs in your family, you may not be able to avoid developing it. But you can keep your heart as healthy as possible by:3

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Not smoking or stopping if you smoke
  • Keeping your weight at a healthy level
  • Limiting how much alcohol you drink
  • Getting enough sleep each day

More research is needed to better understand the genetics of AFib. Research may lead to screening tests that allow people at risk to be identified and treated sooner.3

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