The Relationship Between High Blood Pressure and Afib
January 25, 2022
Significant research has been performed on the potential causes of Atrial Fibrillation or AFib. Lifestyle choices, including a lack of exercise and poor diet, most certainly contribute to the incidence and severity of Afib. It is also important to note that one of the most significant consequences of this poor lifestyle is high blood pressure or hypertension. As the arteries narrow due to plaque buildup known as atherosclerosis, the heart must pump ever harder to get the same amount of blood through the body. While the heart is a formidable muscle, even the strongest of muscles can begin to weaken when overworked. As such, high blood pressure can begin to cause various arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats, including Afib.
For many, Afib begins as paroxysmal or occasional. As a result, many patients do not seek appropriate specialized treatment from an electrophysiologist. However, it is during this time that Afib is most treatable. Whether lifestyle change, medication or a curative procedure, such as a cardiac catheter ablation, there are plethora of options for patients suffering from arrhythmias.
However, most importantly is the heightened risk of stroke. And, concerningly, both high blood pressure and Afib can increase the risk of stroke dramatically. Atherosclerosis forms from a buildup of plaque on the arterial walls. If this plaque begins to harden and a piece breaks off, traveling to the brain, this can cause a stroke. Similarly, any blood clots that form along the arterial walls due to this plaque buildup can dislodge and cause a stroke as well.
On the other hand, Afib increases the risk of stroke by up to five times because the heart begins to beat inefficiently. Blood can pool and clot within a small outpouching of the heart known as the left atrial appendage. Eventually, these clots can break free, traveling through the arteries up to the brain and causing a stroke.
In the short term, it is the increased risk of stroke and heart attack that truly concerns us as electrophysiologists. However, even over the long term, high blood pressure and Afib alike can cause progressive weakening of the heart muscle. This can eventually lead to congestive heart failure.
Of course, this can all be addressed and even prevented by identifying and treating both high blood pressure and Afib at the earliest possible time. We encourage you to speak to your primary care physician, cardiologist and, of course, electrophysiologist to learn more about an appropriate treatment plan for high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation with the goal of preventing serious follow-on cardiovascular consequences.