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Epidemiology of and risk factors for atrial fibrillation

Leonard I Ganz, MD, FHRS, FACC
David Spragg, MD, FHRS
Section Editor
Peter J Zimetbaum, MD
Deputy Editor
Gordon M Saperia, MD, FACC


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained cardiac arrhythmia in clinical practice. Patients are at increased risk for death, heart failure, hospitalization, and thromboembolic events [1-3].

The epidemiology of, disease associations with, and risk factors for AF will be reviewed here. An overview of the presentation and management of patients with AF is discussed elsewhere. (See "Overview of atrial fibrillation".)


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a global health care problem with evidence suggesting an increasing prevalence and incidence worldwide [4-6]. A systematic review of worldwide population-based studies (n = 184) estimated that the number of individuals with AF in 2010 was 33.5 million.

Most of the studies below have evaluated individuals living in North America or Europe, but other geographies will be specified.

Prevalence — The prevalence of AF depends upon population characteristics, with differences apparent due to age, sex, race, geography, and time period. The following data are primarily derived from studies in which an electrocardiogram was obtained during an office visit rather than ambulatory monitoring. The prevalence of paroxysmal AF, which is more likely to be detected with ambulatory monitoring, is much higher.


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