Atrial fibrillation is the most common of the arrhythmias. Though lifestyle factors and underlying health conditions play a role in developing AFib, a person’s genes may also be involved.

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Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a type of heart arrhythmia. A person with AFib has irregular beats in the upper chambers (the atria). This situation impairs the blood flow throughout the heart.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 12.1 million people in the United States will have AFib by 2030. High blood pressure and advanced age are risk factors for AFib. For some people, AFib has a genetic link.

Learn more about AFib.

When AFib is hereditary – meaning it is passed along in a person’s genes – it is called familial atrial fibrillation (FAF).

Studies have shown that people are more likely to develop AFib if one of their first-degree relatives also has it. First-degree relatives include your parents, siblings, or children. Researchers explain the link may also be genetic in people with early-onset AFib.

Your doctor may suspect you have FAF if you have AFib but do not have the usual risk factors. Up to 30% of people seeking help for AFib fall into this category.

There are more than 138 genetic variants related to developing AFib. These genes control proteins on cell membranes called ion channels.

In the heart, these proteins help deliver substances like potassium and sodium that directly affect your heart’s rate and rhythm. So, if these genes are altered (mutated), your heart may have an irregular rate or beat like AFib.

Some genes directly cause the arrhythmia. Others may indirectly cause it by influencing how the body responds to triggers.


FAF is typically inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. This means that an affected gene from only one parent is enough to cause the condition.

There are also reports of inheritance in an autosomal recessive manner. This means that two copies of an affected gene – one from each parent – are necessary to cause the condition.

People with FAF may or may not have symptoms. If you have a family history of AFib, paying attention to cues your body gives you is essential.

Symptoms may include:

  • irregular heartbeat
  • fluttering or pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
  • lightheadedness
  • severe fatigue
  • low blood pressure
  • shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • chest pain (angina)

Of all symptoms, fatigue is the most common. You may feel extremely tired even without much activity.

Make an appointment with your doctor even if you don’t have symptoms. Early detection may help you avoid complications.

Your doctor will give you a physical exam and look at your health history. You may also be referred to a cardiologist for further testing. AFib is typically diagnosed by a electrocardiogram (EKG) or Holter monitor.

Other tests that may be performed to help diagnose conditions that may cause AFib include:

The goal of treatment is to address heart rhythm issues, prevent blood clots, and slow tachycardia.

Treatment includes:

Without treatment, AFib can cause life threatening complications. Stroke is the most serious of all, and AFib increases a person’s risk of stroke by five times.

People with other health conditions along with AFib may also risk developing heart failure.

The primary risk factor for FAF is having a family history of AFib. The risks may increase with age, sex, or weight.

Other risk factors for AFib include:

There is no cure for FAF. It is a lifelong condition. Treatment can help with symptoms, lower your risk of complications, and improve your quality of life.

It’s essential to keep up with regular doctor appointments to monitor your heart rate and rhythm. Your outlook depends on the type of AFib you have and your adherence to your treatment plan.

If an immediate family member has AFib, does that mean I will, too?

Not necessarily. Lifestyle, age, and other factors cause AFib in 7 out of 10 people.

Can I exercise with AFib?

Yes. You can do almost any activity if it doesn’t produce symptoms. Any restrictions will depend on your health.

How can I prevent FAF?

You may not be able to prevent FAF because it is caused by changes in your genes.

Make an appointment with a doctor if you have a family history of AFib. Many risk factors are involved with this condition, but your genes play a role.

Early identification means earlier treatment and preventing complications like heart failure or stroke.