What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (also referred to as atrial fib, Afib, AF) is a relatively common condition that causes the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to beat rapidly and in an uncontrolled manner (fibrillation).

This uncoordinated, fast beat of the heart affects the blood flow, causing an irregular pulse and sometimes a “fluttering” feeling in the chest.

When the heart misfires – this infographic describes atrial fibrillation, a type of abnormal heart rhythm. Click the image to open a larger version.

What are the Different Types of Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is classified according to how often the episodes occur and how quickly they terminate. There are 3 main classifications:

  • Paroxysmal (intermittent) AF — Atrial fibrillation that happens over and over (2 or more episodes) and stops on its own within 7 days. Often the heartbeat returns to normal rhythm as quickly as within a few seconds or after a few hours
  • Persistent AF — Atrial fibrillation that lasts more than 7 days, or lasts less than 7 days but necessitates pharmacologic or electrical cardioversion. Medication or electrical impulse is needed to normalize the heartbeat
  • Longstanding persistent AF — Atrial fibrillation that lasts continuously for longer than one year. The heart is in a constant state of atrial fibrillation and the condition is considered permanent. Depending on how severe their symptoms are, people who have this form of atrial fibrillation need medications or other treatments to control the atrial fibrillation. In most cases, delivering electrical impulses to regulate the heartbeat are either not effective or cannot be attempted.

Can Atrial Fibrillation Be Treated?

AFib is not life-threatening in itself. However, it is important that atrial fibrillation is treated, not only to control the symptoms, but also because this condition may be responsible for up to 20% of all strokes.

The good news is that advances in medicine have provided options for atrial fibrillation to be treated effectively. A number of treatments are available, which your doctor can explain to you. In certain cases, if medications are not particularly effective in controlling your atrial fibrillation, other nonsurgical procedures such as cardiac ablation are proving to be very effective and can eliminate the cause of atrial fibrillation.

Next: Treatment Options →