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Health

What Causes Younger Adults to Get This Common Heart Problem?

Atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a prevalent heart condition associated with an increased risk of stroke, is now affecting a growing number of individuals under the age of 65. Previously believed to primarily impact those over 65, recent research sheds light on its prevalence and risks among younger populations. Dr. Aditya Bhonsale, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, notes that younger individuals with A-fib often have risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, and sleep apnea, which can exacerbate cardiovascular health issues.

A-fib, characterized by irregular heartbeats, can manifest as fluttering sensations, palpitations, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort. While some experience occasional episodes, others may have a continuous irregular heartbeat without apparent symptoms. Increased awareness and monitoring, facilitated by smartwatch technology, contribute to the growing diagnoses among younger adults.

Diagnosis typically involves an electrocardiogram and consideration of medical history. A-fib poses serious risks, including the formation of blood clots leading to strokes, cognitive decline, dementia, and heart failure, even in younger patients. Notably, individuals under 65 with A-fib face a significantly higher risk of hospitalization for heart failure, stroke, and heart attack compared to those without the condition.

Several factors contribute to the rise of A-fib among younger adults. The prevalence of risk factors like heart disease, diabetes, and obstructive sleep apnea is increasing in this demographic. Lifestyle habits such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and extreme endurance exercise also correlate with a higher A-fib risk.

Treatment strategies focus on addressing underlying risk factors, such as managing sleep apnea and encouraging lifestyle changes like smoking cessation. In some cases, procedures like catheter ablation may be recommended to eliminate tissue causing irregular heartbeats. Medications, including blood thinners and drugs to regulate heart rate and rhythm, are prescribed to manage symptoms and reduce stroke risk.

Younger individuals diagnosed with A-fib are urged to take proactive steps to manage their health and reduce future complications. Dr. Geoffrey Barnes emphasizes the importance of viewing the diagnosis as a wake-up call, prompting individuals to prioritize lifestyle changes and ongoing management to mitigate risks associated with A-fib.

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