Afib FAQs

What is Afib?

Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is the most common type of arrhythmia that can cause blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart–related complications.

How many people have Afib?

The American Medical Association report that more than 2.7 million people have Afib in the United States and the chances of developing Afib increases with age.1

What are the symptoms?

Some people have no symptoms and don’t know they have Afib until it’s discovered during a medical exam. For those who have Afib, they might experience signs and symptoms such as:

  • Palpitations, which are sensations of a racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat or a flip-flopping in your chest
  • Weakness
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

What are the different levels of Afib?

There are four different types of Afib, according to the Heart Rhythm Society

  1. Paroxysmal: Recurrent Afib (greater than two episodes) that ends within seven days.
  2. Persistent: Afib that is sustained more than seven days.
  3. Longstanding Persistent: Continuous Afib of more than one year duration.
  4. Permanent: Afib for which a decision has been made by the patient and the physician treating the Afib not to pursue restoration of sinus rhythm by any means.

What are the greatest risks of having Afib?

The biggest risk of Afib is stroke. A patient with Afib is five times more likely to have a stroke compared with someone who doesn’t have Afib .1

What treatments are available for Afib?

Medications: Physicians often prescribe medication to control heart rate and rhythm. It is also prescribed to prevent or treat current blood clots. Some common medications physicians might prescribe include:

  • Beta blockers – these are used to slow the heart rate and widen vessels to increase blood flow
  • Calcium channel blockers – these are also used to slow the heart rate and widen vessels to increase blood flow
  • Digoxin – this medication slows the rate at which electrical currents are conducted from the atria to the ventricle
  • Anticoagulants or Antiplatelets – these drugs are often given to patients to reduce the risk for blood clots or to treat an existing blood clot. 

Procedures: Physicians use a few different procedures to restore a normal heart rhythm.

  • Cardioversion is a procedure that can restore a fast or irregular heartbeat to a normal rhythm. The procedure is performed in two ways: using an electrical procedure or using medicines.
    • Electrical procedure occurs when the heart is given low-energy shocks to trigger a normal rhythm. This type of cardioversion is normally done in the hospital as an outpatient procedure.
    • Medicine can also be used as a form of cardioversion and sometimes done in the hospital but can be done at home or in a doctor’s office.
  • Catheter Ablation is sometimes used when medicines and cardioversions don’t work to restore the heart to a normal rhythm. For this procedure, a catheter is inserted through a vein in the leg or arm and maneuvered to reach inside the heart, where the catheter will be used to destroy the triggers where erratic Afib signals orignate.
  • Surgical Ablation is a technique a heart surgeon will use with ablation devices to either burn or freeze cardiac tissue that carry erratic electrical signals that can cause Afib. Once the tissue is destroyed and no longer allows erratic signals to pass through, the heart often returns to normal rhythm.

[1] January, C., Wann S., Alpert J., Calkins H., Cleveland J., Cigarroa J., Conti J., Ellinor P., “2014 AHA/ACC/HRS Guideline for the Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society.” Circulation. 2014 March.