A heart in atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder, doesn't beat efficiently. It may not be able to pump enough blood out to your body with each heartbeat.
Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition until it's discovered during a physical examination. Those who do have signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation may experience:
- Palpitations, which are sensations of a racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat or a flip-flopping in your chest
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Atrial fibrillation may be:
- Occasional. In this case it's called paroxysmal (par-ok-SIZ-mul) atrial fibrillation. You may have symptoms that come and go, lasting for a few minutes to hours and then stopping on their own.
- Persistent. With this type of atrial fibrillation, your heart rhythm doesn't go back to normal on its own. If you have persistent atrial fibrillation, you'll need treatment such as an electrical shock or medications in order to restore your heart rhythm.
- Permanent. In this type of atrial fibrillation, the normal heart rhythm can't be restored. You'll have atrial fibrillation permanently, and you'll often require medications to control your heart rate. Most people with permanent atrial fibrillation will require blood thinners to prevent blood clots.
When to see a doctor
If you have any symptoms of atrial fibrillation, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor may order an electrocardiogram in order to determine if your symptoms are caused by atrial fibrillation or another heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia).
If you have chest pain, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. Chest pain could signal that you're having a heart attack.
Apr. 08, 2014
- Atrial fibrillation (Afib). Heart Rhythm Society. http://www.hrsonline.org/Patient-Resources/Heart-Diseases-Disorders/Atrial-Fibrillation-AFib. Accessed Feb. 17, 2014.
- What is atrial fibrillation? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/af/. Accessed Feb. 17, 2014.
- Cheng A, et al. Overview of atrial fibrillation. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 17, 2014.
- Grogan M (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 24, 2014.