Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an epidemic, affecting 1% to 1.5% of the population in the developed world. Projected data from the population-based studies suggest that the prevalence of AF will grow at least 3-fold by 2050. The health and economic burden imposed by AF and AF-related morbidity is enormous. Atrial fibrillation has a multiplicity of causes ranging from genetic to degenerative, but hypertension and heart failure are the commonest and epidemiologically most prevalent conditions associated with AF as both have been shown to create an arrhythmogenic substrate. Several theories emerged regarding the mechanism of AF, which can be combined into two groups: the single focus hypothesis and the multiple sources hypothesis. Several lines of evidence point to the relevance of both hypotheses to the mechanism of AF, probably with a different degree of involvement depending on the variety of AF (paroxysmal or persistent). Sustained AF alters electrophysiological and structural properties of the atrial myocardium such that the atria become more susceptible to the initiation and maintenance of the arrhythmia, a process known as atrial remodeling. Angiotensin II has been recognized as a key element in atrial remodeling in association with AF opening the possibility of exploitation of "upstream" therapies to prevent or delay atrial remodeling. The clinical significance of AF lies predominantly in a 5-fold increased risk of stroke. The limitations of warfarin prompted the development of new antithrombotic drugs, which include anticoagulants, such as direct oral thrombin inhibitors (dabigatran) and factor Xa inhibitors (rivaroxaban, apixaban). Novel mechanical approaches for the prevention of cardioembolic stroke have recently been evaluated: percutaneous left atrial appendage occluders, minimally invasive surgical isolation of the left atrial appendage, and implantation of carotid filtering devices.
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