Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. An estimated 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib. Its frequency increases with age. AFib happens when the heart's electrical signals don't travel through the heart in a normal way. Instead, they become very rapid and disorganized. These disorganized electrical signals cause the heart's two upper chambers (atria) to fibrillate, or contract very fast and irregularly. In patients with AFib, blood pools in the atria. It isn't pumped completely into the heart's two lower chambers (ventricles). As a result, the heart's upper and lower chambers don't work together as they should.
Types of AFib
- Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation - In paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, the faulty electrical signals and rapid heart rate begin suddenly and then stop on their own. Symptoms can be mild or severe. They stop within about a week, but usually in less than 24 hours.
- Persistent Atrial Fibrillation - Persistent AFib is a condition in which the abnormal heart rhythm continues for more than a week. It may stop on its own, or it can be stopped with treatment.
- Permanent Atrial Fibrillation - Permanent AFib is a condition in which a normal heart rhythm can't be restored with treatment. Both paroxysmal and persistent AFib may become more frequent and, over time, result in permanent AFib.
Symptoms of AFib
- Palpitations (feeling that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, or beating too hard or fast)
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or problems exercising
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or fainting
- Fatigue (tiredness)
Why Is AFib Serious?
The two main complications from AFib are stroke and heart failure. A person with untreated AFib is five-to-six times more likely to have a stroke than the general population. Researchers estimate that 35% of patients with AFib will suffer a stroke (unless treated). Heart failure occurs if the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs for blood and oxygen.
The AFib Center of The Richard A. Reif Heart Institute of Doylestown Hospital 267-880-DHAF (3423).