Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as “AFib”, is an irregular heartbeat or a quivering of the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria. Atrial fibrillation is due to a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system, and is the most common heart irregularity, or cardiac arrhythmia. This can happen intermittently or continuously.
Different patients have different symptoms. Some patients describe AFib as feeling like skipped heartbeats, followed by a thud and a speeding up or racing of the heart. Others describe it as an erratic heartbeat, strong heart palpitations, or simply a rapid heart rate. And others describe it as fluttering, butterflies, or even a flopping fish in the chest. Some have even described it as chest and throat pressure that mimics a heart attack, or constriction around the left bicep.
By not getting enough oxygen to the body, AFib can lead to heart and valve diseases, sleep apnea, and chronic fatigue. Atrial fibrillation can also lead to two potentially life-threatening conditions, congestive heart failure and stroke, so it needs to be treated seriously.
A resting EKG can detect this condition. If you have AFib, your doctor needs to know your medical history and your lifestyle to determine how to best manage it. By educating yourself and understanding your atrial fibrillation, you can better partner with your doctor to manage it, and to prevent heart failure and stroke.
As the baby boomer population ages, the incidence of AFib has been increasing. If you suspect you have AFib, schedule an appointment to see your doctor.