Cases of atrial fibrillation are increasing. It’s not just older people who are affected. This is suggested by two current studies from Denmark and the USA. If left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to, among other things, a stroke. The main signs and risk factors.

The heart beats irregularly, races or stumbles. The chest feels tight and the body feels exhausted. These can be signs of dangerous atrial fibrillation. It occurs when the heart and its pumping function are out of sync. Some of those affected experience the symptoms mentioned, while others experience a feeling of restlessness, fear and dizziness. Others don’t notice anything at all.

“We assume that around one in two people with this cardiac arrhythmia do not notice it,” estimates Michael Böhm, director of the Clinic for Cardiology, Angiology and Internal Intensive Care Medicine at Saarland University Hospital.

If left untreated, atrial fibrillation can have dangerous consequences – such as a stroke. Slow blood flow can cause blood clots. If they get into small brain vessels and block them, the brain is no longer supplied with enough blood and oxygen – a stroke occurs.

Researchers from Denmark have now found that atrial fibrillation is becoming increasingly common in the population there. They evaluated data from around 3.5 million people between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2022. The average risk of these men and women experiencing atrial fibrillation increased as follows:

One in five patients with atrial fibrillation suffered a stroke. Two out of five developed heart failure. This means that your heart can no longer supply the organs with enough blood and therefore oxygen.

The Danish researchers do not give reasons for the increase in numbers. This may be due to the fact that the risk factors for atrial fibrillation are increasing in the population – worldwide. These include:

According to the German Hypertension League, around 25 percent of the world’s population has high blood pressure. An increase to 29 percent is expected by 2025. Almost all countries are similarly affected.

The number of people who are severely overweight is also increasing worldwide, data shows. From 1990 to 2022, the number of those affected has more than doubled.

And diabetes is also increasing worldwide: in 2021, the number of people with diabetes was estimated at 537 million. According to experts, an increase to 783 million is conceivable for 2045, reports the German Diabetes Center. That would be an increase of around 46 percent.

It is primarily older people who suffer from atrial fibrillation. However, a current study from the USA shows that out of more than 67,000 people affected, a quarter were younger than 65 years old. Particularly risky: If younger people do not take the symptoms seriously, serious health problems can arise in the long term that could possibly have been prevented with timely measures.

The occurrence of atrial fibrillation is not a life-threatening acute emergency, explains cardiologist Michael Böhm. “But that doesn’t mean that we can take our time with the treatment.” An early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are important so that the heart does not go permanently out of rhythm.

On average, the patients in the US study were 72 years old. In most cases, the risk factors already mentioned played a role. Among patients with atrial fibrillation had

Other risk factors included: smoking, chronic kidney disease or obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder while sleeping.

Atrial fibrillation refers to an irregular heartbeat. This is caused by a disorder in the so-called sinoatrial node in the right atrium. The sinoatrial node is the pacemaker of the heart. It sends electrical signals to the heart chambers and thus determines the heart rhythm.

Cardiologist Michael Böhm explains: “In atrial fibrillation, due to local tissue changes in the heart wall, the electrical excitation only spreads in a non-directional manner through the two smaller heart chambers, the so-called atria. The result of efficient emptying is rapid and uncoordinated movements of the atrial walls. This is what is meant by flickering. A normal contraction of the atria no longer occurs, which means that the blood “stands” in the atria or flows more slowly.”

In order to prevent dangerous atrial fibrillation, the causes must be addressed. Appropriate medication is necessary for high blood pressure; sufficient exercise and a healthy diet are important in the fight against obesity. Those who avoid being overweight, eat healthily and don’t smoke have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.