AF Information & Advice For Patients

What are the risks of AFib?

AFib-related stroke

The main risk associated with AFib is stroke. This occurs because when a person is in AFib, the atria (the top chambers of the heart) are fibrillating and not beating in a coordinated way. The lack of sufficient contraction means that the blood in parts of the atria becomes stagnant and can form clots. These clots can break off and travel anywhere in the body, but most worryingly, they can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. AFib-related strokes are often more damaging than other kinds of stroke. A doctor will assess your personal risk of stroke when you have been diagnosed. The chart below can help you to also do this:

Question Points Your Score
Do you have congestive heart disease?     1  
Do you have hypertension (high blood pressure)?     1  
Are you over 75?     2  
Do you have diabetes?     1  
Have you suffered a stroke (even a mild stroke)?     2  
Do you have vascular heart disease?     1  
Are you between the ages 65 and 74 years?     1  
Are you female and over 65?     1  
                                                                                    Total score  

Your annual risk of stroke rises from under 2% a year with no risk factors to over 10% a year for five or six. Experts who use this scoring scheme (the CHA2DS2-VASc score) may suggest that the tipping point for benefitting from taking anticoagulants over their risks is at a score of 2 or above. However, there are situations where, even with a score of less than 2, anticoagulation may be recommended.

If you’ve been diagnosed with AFib please use the AF stroke risk calculator to work out a personal estimate of your stroke risk. The tool collects vital information on your health and provides a print out of information that you and your doctor will be able to use when assessing the potential need for treatment to reduce your risk of stroke because of AFib.

Heart Failure

Having an uncontrolled heart rate for long periods of time (weeks or months) can damage the heart and you should check with your doctor that your heart rate is controlled adequately. In extreme cases, often when the rate is very fast or when it happens in a damaged heart, AFib can cause heart failure, which means that the heart becomes weak, as a result of the rapid rhythm. As the heart weakens, blood flows back into the lungs and affects the normal breathing pattern.

AFib is also associated with a slightly increased risk of death although this is a very small risk and generally AFib is not considered a life threatening disease in its own right. Why AFib is associated with increased risk of death is not understood.


AFib may cause angina to occur or increase in frequency.

Reduce your risk of AFib-related stroke

You can lower your AFib-related stroke risk by:

  • Managing any other medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop smoking
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Eat a balanced healthy diet
  • Ask for regular check ups with your doctor

Get in touch for more help and information


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