1. What is atrial fibrillation?
2. Types of atrial fibrillation
3. Atrial fibrillation symptoms
4. What does atrial fibrillation feel like?
5. How long does it last?
6. Factors causing atrial fibrillation
7. Atrial fibrillation potential complications
8. Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation
What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is an abnormal heart rhythm in which the upper chambers of your heart quiver or contract.
When you have atrial fibrillation, the standard regular contraction pattern of your heart’s atria (the top two chambers) becomes irregular. This irregularity can block blood flow through the chambers and potentially reduce blood supply to the rest of your body.
If it isn’t treated promptly, the condition can cause life-threatening complications.
Types of atrial fibrillation
Types of atrial fibrillation can include paroxysmal, persistent, and permanent AFib.
- Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.
- Persistent atrial fibrillation.
- Permanent atrial fibrillation.
Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation – This is the most common type of AFib. People with paroxysmal AFib have episodes that usually last for a few days but can recur within several weeks or months after they’ve gone away. It’s called “paroxysmal” because it comes and goes. You may not realize you have it unless someone who lives with you sees your symptoms or you notice them yourself when checking your pulse during an episode. Most people experience palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, fatigue, and weakness as manifestations of this type of atrial fibrillation.
Persistent atrial fibrillation – This is when AFib lasts more than seven days or if it comes back after going away for a while. With persistent AFib, irregular heartbeats can keep you from living your life the way you want to. You may feel tired and out of breath all the time and your heart may not be able to pump as much blood as it should.
Permanent atrial fibrillation – This is the most severe type of AFib. When you have permanent AFib, your heart’s electrical system has been permanently damaged, and quivering or erratic contractions will continue to occur in one or both upper chambers of the heart. However, in some cases, permanent AFib can gradually go away on its own.
Paroxysmal AFib occurs in less than 6 months or at least twice a year. Persistent AFib lasts for more than 6 months but less than two years. Permanent AFib persists beyond 2 years without medical treatment.
Atrial fibrillation symptoms
- Heart is beating too fast, too slow, or irregularly.
- A fluttering sensation in your chest.
- Shortness of breath.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
What does atrial fibrillation feel like?
What does afib feel like? When you feel an episode for the first time, you might notice a skipped heartbeat, and then feel a thud or thump, followed by your heart racing for an extended amount of time. It often feels like rapid fluttering or “flip-flops” inside where your heart should be a sensation most people describe as if they were experiencing “a million butterflies in their stomach.”
Others may feel this way
- “I feel my heart is going to burst out of my chest”
- “I feel completely wiped out”
- “My heart feels as though it is flopping around in my chest”
- “I feel I having a heart attack”
- “My heart has started pounding like after vigorous exercise.”
These symptoms may persist and never seem to go away.
How long does it last?
AFib can last for a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months. Some people have only one episode their entire life, while others may have several episodes per year. The Afib episodes can last from a few seconds to a few hours. Although uncommon, some people may eventually develop chronic atrial fibrillation, which means they have persistent atrial fibrillation that lasts for more than seven days or comes and goes.
Atrial fibrillation may come and go, but it’s a lifelong condition for some people. Most people with atrial fibrillation have episodes that last for minutes, hours, or days. In rare cases, atrial fibrillation can become chronic (ongoing). If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of Afib, please consult with your doctor. They will make a diagnosis and help you get the treatment you need.
Factors causing atrial fibrillation
- Abnormalities of the heart’s structure.
- Coronary artery disease.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- Fluid accumulation in lungs.
- Diabetes mellitus type 2.
- Medication side effects.
- Old age.
- Genetic factors.
- Unhealthy lifestyle.
Atrial fibrillation potential complications
- Heart failure.
- Blood clots.
Stroke – If you have Afib and are not taking anticoagulant medication (medications that help prevent blood clotting), your risk of having a stroke is five times higher than for someone without Afib. About 15-20% of people who have a stroke each year do so because of atrial fibrillation.
Heart failure – occurs when the heart muscle can no longer pump blood effectively around the body. This can lead to fluid accumulation in the lungs and ankles and shortness of breath.
Blood clots – occur when blood thickens and forms a solid mass or lump. This can cause various problems, including pulmonary embolism (a clot that travels to the lungs) and stroke. A person with Afib who is not taking anticoagulant medication has an increased risk of developing a blood clot, incredibly if immobile for long periods.
Cardiac arrest – In severe cases, cardiac arrest may occur in people experiencing atrial fibrillation. In this case, it is essential to be aware that rapid intervention from emergency medical personnel is required. If the heart rhythm returns to normal before their arrival, there is no need for CPR or other resuscitation efforts.
Death – The risk of death is also increased in people with atrial fibrillation. This is most often due to a stroke, heart failure, or blood clot. However, it is essential to note that the overall risk of death is still relatively low (less than 5%).