Many people live for years with atrial fibrillation (AF) without problems. However, because the atria are beating rapidly and irregularly, blood does not flow through them as quickly. This makes the blood more likely to clot. If the clot is pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke. The likelihood of a stroke in people with AF is five to seven times higher than in the general population. Although about half of all blood clots related to AF result in stroke, clots can travel to other parts of the body -- such as the kidney, heart, or intestines -- also causing problems.
AF can also decrease the heart's pumping ability by as much as 20% to 25%. AF combined with a fast heart rate over a period of days to months can result in heart failure. Control of AF can then improve heart failure, also over days to months.
Chronic atrial fibrillation is associated with an increased risk of death.
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