What Is Atrial Fibrillation? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Atrial fibrillation (AF or AF) is a type of heart rhythm disorder, or arrhythmia. It causes your heart to beat very fast, and the upper and lower chambers of your heart do not work properly. (1)

Aafib begins in the upper chambers of your heart, called the atria. Fibrillation refers to a fast, irregular heartbeat. (2)

Atrial fibrillation can cause a number of symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and palpitations. But in some people, the condition does not cause any symptoms.

Regardless of the symptoms, epilepsy can put you at greater risk for stroke. It is important to treat and manage your condition to avoid complex illnesses.

Your doctor will diagnose atrial fibrillation based on the results of most electrocardiograms (ECG or EKG) as well as physical examination and your personal and family history.

In some people, Afib goes away on his own. In others, it is a problem that persists for years, and can get worse over time.

Possible treatments for epilepsy include lifestyle changes, medication, unnecessary procedures, and heart surgery. (1)

How Common Is Afib?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (3), it is estimated that between 2.7 and 6.1 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation.

The rate of epilepsy is only 2% for people under 65 and 9% for people 65 and older.

Because the risk of epilepsy increases with age, and women live longer than men, women are more likely than men to have it.

Americans of European descent have a higher risk of atrial fibrillation than other ethnic or racial groups.

What Happens in Afib


In a normal heartbeat, the two upper chambers of your heart (known as the atria) are electrically activated and contracted, then the two lower chambers (ventricles) do the same.

This allows your atria to pump blood to your ventricles and the blood from your ventricles to your lungs and the rest of your body.

Your heart’s electrical system coordinates the contraction times between your arteries and ventricles. Electrical conduction in your heart starts from the right atrium, and causes your two atria to contract first.

The stimulus travels close to the center of your heart (known as the atrioventricular, or AV, node) which acts as an electrical “bridge” between your atria and ventricles.

Once the electrical impulses reach your ventricles, they contract and pump the blood they receive from the atria.

In atrial fibrillation, many electrical diseases are found in your atria at the same time, causing a very rapid and random epidemic. This means that your atria cannot effectively pump blood into your ventricles.

And because of the irregular electrical movements that start in your atria, your ventricles also contract very quickly and irregularly. As a result, they cannot pump blood to your body effectively.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, while a relaxed heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm), atrial fibrillation can beat your arteries 300 to 600 times per minute. (2) Although ventilators do not beat 300 to 600 times per minute, they can beat much faster than 100 bpm.

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation can occur intermittently (known as paroxysmal), appearing and coming and going randomly or when you do certain activities.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, such an epileptic seizure usually lasts less than 24 hours, but can last up to a week. (1)

You may need treatment for paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, or it may be so frequent that your doctor may simply prescribe monitoring of your condition.

If you experience slower-than-normal heartbeat episodes, it’s called tachycardia syndrome.

The defect can also be permanent, meaning it lasts for more than a week. Such epilepsy usually requires treatment.

Long-term permanent atrial fibrillation is defined as an abnormal heart rhythm that lasts for up to a year without interruption.

If, after several treatments, the normal heart rhythm cannot be restored, your AFB can be considered permanent. In this case, you may need to take medication to prevent your heart rate from beating faster. (1.4)

When Is Afib a Problem?

Atrial fibrillation is considered a serious health condition, even if it does not cause immediate chest pain, palpitations, or other disturbing symptoms.

Many people live their years without any significant problems with their affinity. But affidavits can put you at risk for future problems in a number of different ways, including:

Facilitate the formation of blood clots
Decreasing your heart’s ability to pump blood
When your atria are beating fast and irregularly, the blood does not flow through them as fast as it should. This increases the chances of blood clots.

Blood clots in your heart can travel to your brain, which can lead to paralysis, or it can travel to other parts of your body and cause damage by stopping blood flow.

Aafib can also make your heart pump blood less efficient. Over time, this can weaken your heart and cause insufficient blood flow throughout your body, which is called heart failure. (2)

Signs and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

In many people, atrial fibrillation causes significant symptoms, but some people have no symptoms at all.

If you experience symptoms, these may include:

Heartbeat (racing, shelling, significantly irregular heartbeat)
Chest pain
Decreased ability to exercise
Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down or with activity
Dizziness or fainting
Light headline
Confusion (1,4)
Your symptoms can range from mild to very noticeable, and they can change over time.

It is important that you track your symptoms when they occur, indicating how long they last, how severe they are, and what you were doing when you started.

The timing and details of your symptoms can be important in helping your doctor diagnose and treat your epilepsy. (1)

How Is Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose or rule out AFB based on:

Your symptoms and medical history
Physical examination
Diagnostic tests
In addition to asking about your symptoms, your doctor will ask you about heart conditions, your diet and exercise habits, and other risk factors for heart disease.

If your doctor suspects you have an epilepsy or other serious heart condition, you can expect to have your heart and lungs examined.

In this test, your doctor will:

Listen to your heartbeat and your breathing
Check your pulse
Measure your blood pressure
Check for swelling in your legs and feet (sign of heart failure or enlarged heart)
Look for signs of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), such as an enlarged thyroid gland (1)
Your doctor may order several tests to help diagnose atrial fibrillation. Most of these tests are designed to analyze your heart rate in a specific way.

The AFB diagnostic test may include:

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) This test involves wearing sensors on your chest and arms to record the electrical activity of your heart.

An ECG is the primary test for diagnosing AFB. This can be done in a few minutes at your doctor’s office, and your doctor can usually analyze your results right now.

Holter Monitor This is a type of portable ECG. This involves wearing sensors that attach to a device, which you carry in your pocket or attached to a shoulder strap.

A Holter monitor records your heart activity for 24 hours or more, giving your doctor a complete picture of your heart rhythm.

Event Recorder This is another type of portable ECG that is usually worn for a longer period of a few weeks to a month.

Whenever you encounter a symptom that could indicate a fast or irregular heartbeat, you press a button on the recorder that activates its data storage. A few minutes of your heart’s electrical activity are stored before and after you press the button.

Echocardiogram This is an ultrasound of your heart, which uses sound waves to create a video image for your doctor’s analysis.

Your doctor or other healthcare professional will have a device called a transducer on your chest that sends and receives sound waves as soon as your heart beats. You will not feel these sound waves.

Less commonly, your doctor may recommend an echocardiogram, which involves inserting a flexible tube containing a small transducer into your throat. This is known as a transfusion echocardiogram.

This type of echocardiogram can produce more detailed images of your heart, helping your doctor diagnose blood clots or other problems.

Blood tests Your doctor may order blood tests to check for thyroid problems or other conditions that may contribute to the affliction.

Chest X-ray Your doctor may order an X-ray of your heart and lungs to check for other conditions that may be causing or helping your symptoms. (4)


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