What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation, often called AFib or AF, is the most common type of treated heart arrhythmia.
An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular way.
When a person has AF, the normal beating in the upper chambers of the heart (the two atria) is irregular, and blood doesn’t flow as well as it should from the atria to the lower chambers of the heart (the two ventricles). AFib may happen in brief episodes, or it may be a permanent condition.
The symptoms of AF
Some people who have AF don’t know they have it and don’t have any symptoms. Others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations (rapid, fluttering, or pounding)
- Light headedness
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
The risk factors for AF
Risk factors for AF include
- Advancing age
- High blood pressure
- European ancestry
- Heart failure
- Ischemic heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use
- Enlargement of the chambers on the left side of the heart
How is AF related to stroke?
AF increases a person’s risk for stroke. Strokes caused by complications from AF tend to be more severe than strokes with other underlying causes. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or by fatty deposits called plaque in the blood vessel lining.
How is AF treated?
Treatment for AF can include
- Medicines to control the heart’s rhythm and rate
- Blood-thinning medicine to prevent blood clots from forming and reduce stroke risk
- Medicine and healthy lifestyle changes to manage AF risk factors