Risk factors are things that increase the chance you'll get a disease or condition. Like other heart conditions, getting older is a risk factor for atrial fibrillation (AFib). That's because as you get older, changes in the body including your heart can make you more likely to develop AFib.

There are other risk factors for AFib. If you have the following, you may be at increased risk of AFib:

  • getting older
  • high blood pressure - the most common known cause
  • heart structure abnormalities
  • heart valve disease or damage
  • heart infection or inflammation
  • congenital heart disease
  • coronary artery disease
  • heart failure
  • heart attack or surgery
  • sick sinus syndrome (a condition where the heart's natural pacemaker isn't firing electrical signals properly)
  • hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • blood clot in the lung
  • lung conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or emphysema
  • obesity
  • sleep apnea (a condition where you may stop breathing for several seconds while you sleep)
  • excessive alcohol use

You have control over a number of these risk factors - and by controlling your risk factors, you can help reduce your risk of AFib.

Here's what you can do:

  • Take control of what you eat. Eat a heart-healthy diet. This means choosing foods that are low in saturated and trans fats and high in fibre and lean protein, and eating fruits and vegetables. Use Canada's Food Guide to help you choose healthy foods. Try some of these healthy food ideas:
    • Make a smoothie with fresh or frozen berries for breakfast.
    • Try a mixed salad for lunch. Toss together salad greens, fresh vegetables such as cucumber or beets, and goat cheese. Top it off with a bit of balsamic vinegar dressing.
    • Eat a whole grain pita or bagel.
  • Get active. A large study involving people over 65 found that those who included light to moderate physical activities such as walking and gardening had a lower risk of AFib. Get active today:
    • Walking is great exercise. Join a mall-walking group or just get out and walk the dog (or your neighbour's dog if you don't have one!).
    • Make a family day of fun - go skiing, skating, or tobogganing.
    • Try a stair workout: spend just 5 minutes walking up and down the stairs to get your heart pumping.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Since excessive alcohol is a trigger for AFib, it's best to limit the amount of alcohol that you drink.

Check with your doctor before starting any physical activity.

Visit "About atrial fibrillation" to learn more about AFib.