Can High Blood Pressure Cause Atrial Fibrillation?

If you have AFib, you are probably used to having your blood pressure checked. But do you really know what the numbers mean? You’ve likely heard your health care provider tell you that your blood pressure is “one fifteen over seventy-nine,” or some similar ratio. But what exactly does that measure?

And while we are at it, how does having AFib impact that number? Understanding blood pressure is essential for the health of your heart, so here are the basics that you should know. 

What does blood pressure measure?

The average heart beats about 86,400 times each day, circulating over 2,000 gallons of blood around the body. Your amazing heart is a muscular pump, and each time it beats, it pushes oxygen-rich blood through your blood vessels to the rest of your body. Blood pressure measures the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart. 

Understanding blood pressure numbers 

The force of blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg. It is represented by two numbers, one over the other, like a fraction. The top number, systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart squeezes or contracts. The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure, and it measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes between beats. 

What is healthy blood pressure?

Blood pressure fluctuates slightly throughout the day, but a healthy blood pressure falls below 120/80 and above 90/60 mmHg. Blood pressures above 120/80 may indicate that your heart is working harder than it should be to circulate your blood. The medical term for this is hypertension, which literally means too much stretching. 

Blood pressures that fall below 90/60, called hypotension, may mean that your heart is not circulating enough oxygen to the rest of your body.  

Patients with atrial fibrillation need to be hyper-vigilant about their blood pressure, ensuring it stays within normal limits. According to a recent study, a good blood pressure goal for AFib patients is between 120 to 129 mmHg systolic and less than 80 mmHg diastolic. Keeping blood pressure within this range lowers the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events. 

The relationship between hypertension and AFib

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart’s two upper chambers, the atria, beat erratically and out of sync with the lower chambers, the ventricles. As a result, the heart tends to have a very irregular, fast rate. Atrial fibrillation and high blood pressure often go hand-in-hand. It’s estimated that approximately 60-80 percent of people with AFib also have hypertension. 

There are several risk factors for AFib, with high blood pressure being at the top of the list. Over time, high blood pressure can cause structural changes to the heart, damaging the electrical system. Studies have shown that high blood pressure can double the risk of developing AFib. In addition, a 2021 study considered genetics and concluded that high blood pressure is a leading cause of AFib.

How does AFib affect blood pressure?

The ultimate goal of the cardiovascular system is to ensure that oxygenated blood is delivered throughout the body. Blood pressure and heart rate dance an intricate tango to ensure that this happens. For example, if blood pressure drops due to dehydration in a healthy person, the heart rate will speed up to ensure that blood is pumped more quickly through the body. 

Understanding whether a person’s blood pressure is high or low in AFib depends on the situation. In the early stages of AFib, blood pressures are often normal or slightly elevated when a person is not having an active episode. 

However, when the heart is beating quickly for an extended time, blood pressure can no longer compensate. Therefore, when a person is having an AFib episode, blood pressure tends to drop. The erratic and rapid beating of the heart reduces the heart’s pumping efficiency, leading to low blood pressure. When blood pressure decreases as a result of AFib, a person is said to be unstable. 

People often wonder what a dangerous heart rate with AFib is. Since everyone is different, it’s more important to focus on symptoms rather than a number. While some can live comfortably with a heart rate in the 140s, others feel extremely unwell. Individuals who experience dizziness, shortness of breath, or chest pain should immediately seek medical care. 

Blood pressure fluctuates with AFib, making it challenging to measure accurately. In addition, rapid heart rates associated with AFib make electronic blood pressure devices unreliable for AFib patients. Research suggests that AFib patients should have their blood pressure taken with a manual cuff. 

Hypertension and AFib: Partners in crime

A diagnosis of either high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation is devastating enough, but put both of them together, and you’ve got yourself a real crisis. There is good news, however! Many of the lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce the risk of one automatically lower the risk of the other. 

Next steps

Eating a nutrient-rich, organic diet, reducing stress, eliminating toxins from your environment, and spending more time outside all lower AFib and hypertension risks and help you live your healthiest life. For more information, visit our hypertension and AFib pages and consider our AFib supplement protocol for essential micronutrients to support normal heart rhythm.

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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD

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