Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is an Irregular Heartbeat

You might often think that your heart skipping a beat is normal or can even be a sign of something good. However, for an estimated three million Americans an irregular heartbeat, or heart palpitations is a sign of a very serious health condition.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF, is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart failure, blood clots or even a stroke. It is the most common serious abnormal heart rhythm.

With each heartbeat, an electrical signal spans from the top to the bottom of the heart, which causes the heart to contract and pump blood. Normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. AFib occurs when rapid disorganized electrical signals cause the two upper chambers (the atria) of the heart to contract very fast and irregularly, also known as fibrillating. This causes blood to pool in the atria, instead of being pumped completely into the ventricles, the heart’s two lower chambers. As a result the upper and lower chambers are not synchronized, and the heart’s efficiency is lost.

With AFib, the rate of impulses through the atria can range from 300 to 600 beats per minute. A normal resting heart rate doesn’t exceed 100 beats per minute. If you suspect this type of cardiac arrhythmia, it’s important to make an appointment with a cardiologist.

Types of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation comes and goes on its own and lasts seven days or less. The faulty electrical signals and rapid heart rate begin suddenly and then stop again just as suddenly. Episodes can last less than a minute or for several days. You can experience mild or severe symptoms. This type of atrial fibrillation typically originates from the junction of the pulmonary veins within the left atrium, or upper chamber of the heart.

Persistent atrial fibrillation consists for more than seven days. It may stop on its own, or it can be stopped with treatment. In most cases, it requires some type of medication to stop.

Long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation is when an abnormal normal heart rhythm that can’t be restored with treatment. This continuous AF lasts longer than a year before it will be classified. Paroxysmal and persistent AFib can become more frequent and transform into permanent AFib.