Atrial Fibrillation (Adults): Understanding Your Results
What is Atrial Fibrillation (also called “Afib”)?
- Afib is an irregular heart rhythm or when the heart beats out of rhythm. Afib affects the top chambers of the heart (called the atria). The atria can beat faster than normal and make the heart beat in an irregular pattern going fast and then slow.
- Afib can be associated with feeling tired or short of breath, or it can have no symptoms at all. The heart can switch in and out of the Afib rhythm, and a person having this may have symptoms on and off or can have no symptoms at all. The risk of having a stroke is higher for people having Afib. The irregular heart beats can cause blood clots in the heart, which can become dislodged and cause a stroke.
- Afib is very treatable with medications and blood thinners. These treatments greatly reduce heart symptoms as well as the risk of stroke.
- Genetic and other factors like high blood pressure, obesity, sleep apnea, and heart failure can lead to Afib.
What does high risk for Afib mean?
- On average, about 1 in 10 people, or 10% of people, over the age of 80 have AFib. The risk of Afib is less for younger people but people even in their 40’s can have Afib.
- Your risk of Afib is high because of one of the following reasons:
- One or both parents had Afib before age 75.
- The presence of a family history of Afib indicates that your risk is 2-3 times higher than the average person
- You have a high polygenic risk score (PRS) for Afib.
- Your polygenic risk score is in the top 3%. This means that you may have a higher genetic risk for Afib than 97 out of 100 people.
- One or both parents had Afib before age 75.
- High polygenic risk for Afib means that your risk for developing Afib is about 2 times higher than a person not in the high-risk category.
- This does not mean that you have Afib or that you will definitely develop Afib in your lifetime.
- This PRS was created using genetic information from large research studies of people with European descent and validated in African American and Hispanic/Latino populations. We outline how this score was created below:
- DNA differences were picked up that are linked to Afib risk
- This score was tested using genetic information from other research studies with different populations and was accurate
- This score was tested using genetic information from other research studies with different populations and was accurate. See the Broad PRS report attached.
- Larger research studies are needed in people of other descents to provide a risk range for those populations – see the Broad PRS report attached.
What can you do to lower your risk for Afib?
- Not everyone who is at high risk for Afib will get it. Talk to your doctor(s) or healthcare provider about how to decrease your chances of getting Afib.
- We strongly recommend a healthy lifestyle, including no smoking, eating a healthy diet, and treating high cholesterol. There are specific lifestyle changes that can lower your risk for Afib:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Participate in some form of exercise or physical activity for 30 minutes a day 4-5 times a week
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure by taking your blood pressure and talking to your doctor if it is high
- Treat sleep apnea if you have it or get screened for it if you think you have it. Symptoms include feeling tired in the day, excessive snoring, or disrupted breathing while sleeping.
- Know if your blood sugar is elevated, which might suggest diabetes, and treat it if it is elevated.
If you have heart palpitations that feel like skipped beats or irregular beats that last for a few minutes at a time, you should tell your doctor. If you have unusual dizzy spells or if you have passed out or almost passed out, you should tell your doctor. Even if you don’t have symptoms like these, your doctor may want to record an electrocardiogram or have you wear a heart monitor to see your heart rhythm.
What are your next steps?
- If you are having the symptoms above, you should contact your doctor.
- You should share these results with your doctor(s) or other healthcare providers to discuss actions to be taken to lower your risk.
- You may also want to share your results with your family members.
- Your results will be uploaded to your electronic health record for you to review and will be available to your doctor(s) and other healthcare providers.
- If you have any questions about your results, please contact the study team at your institution. You can find this contact information on the cover page of the GIRA.