HEALTH RISKS OF AF
The inefficiency of the heart pumping action caused by AF may lead to weakness of the heart muscle and heart failure, or a worsening of any existing heart problems. A small number of people may go through life with AF and have little or no health problems from the condition.
CARDIAC FAILURE AND AF
Congestive cardiac failure and AF can form a vicious cycle with each condition potentially causing and then worsening the other. Both conditions generally need to be treated in their own right to halt the negative and often long term interactions.
There is now ample research showing that patients with AF who have congestive cardiac failure and/ or left ventricular systolic dysfunction (weakened heart pump function / reduced 'ejection fraction') benefit significantly from catheter ablation for their AF. This has been shown to improve cardiac function and life expectancy in this group of patients.
STROKE AND AF
One of the greatest health risks from AF is an increased risk of stroke. People with a current or past diagnosis of AF have around 5 times the risk of having a stroke as a person without AF.
AF leads to an increased risk of a blood clot forming in the top chambers of the heart (in particular left atrial appendage), which, if it dislodges and travels to the brain, results in a stroke. Being in normal rhythm rather than AF does not necessarily mitigate completely the risk of blood clots and stroke.
DEMENTIA AND AF
Recently AF has been discerned to be an important cause of dementia. The explanation seems to be multifactorial. Some people may be more prone to multiple tiny blood clots travelling off to the brain causing repeated minor injury (rather than a larger more obvious clinical stroke). AF probably also has a detrimental effect on the long term brain blood circulation.
Anticoagulation medications that protect against stroke in AF have also been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. Catheter ablation of AF has also been linked with reduced dementia rates.