Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is a heart condition characterized by an irregular, often quickened heartbeat that seems to bounce or flutter. It occurs when the beating of the chambers of your heart is irregular, interfering with proper blood flow to your heart's chambers.

Afib increases your risk of heart disease, including heart failure, and makes your risk of stroke five times higher. It is a common type of arrhythmia, estimated by the CDC to affect at least 2.7 million people in the U.S. Since Afib can go unnoticed for years, as many as 6.1 million Americans may have this condition.

Risk factors for Afib

While Afib is not exclusively an age-related condition, it affects an estimated 10% of people over age 75. It can occur sporadically for no reason or develop because of strain on your heart valves, congenital heart defects or unhealthy lifestyle choices that negatively affect heart function.

Health conditions that can lead to Afib include:

Other risk factors include:

  • Advanced age
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Diabetes
  • Family history
  • Heart valve defects
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
  • Lung diseases
  • Obesity
  • Past heart surgery
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption

Symptoms of Afib

Afib symptoms can vary by type and severity. Some of the most common include:

  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Water retention
  • Stroke

Diagnosing Afib

Diagnosing Afib begins with a comprehensive medical examination, blood tests, X-rays and other diagnostic heart tests such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): A device that records your heart’s rhythm, checks blood flow to your heart and detects other abnormalities in your heart's function.
  • Holter monitor: A battery-operated device that records heart activity for a day or two.
  • Cardiac event monitor: A battery-operated device that records heart activity for a few weeks to a few months.
  • Implantable loop recorder: A small device implanted under the skin that remotely tracks and monitors your heart's rhythm.

Your doctor will monitor and record information such as your heart rate, rhythm, strength and electrical impulses.

Treating Afib

Beyond treating underlying health conditions and making lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk and severity of Afib, treatment options range from medication to minimally invasive medical and surgical procedures. The goal is to control and normalize your heart rate and rhythm, prevent blood clots and minimize your risk of stroke.

Explore treatment options for atrial fibrillation.