Everything You Need to Know about Atrial Fibrillation
If your doctor recently told you that you have atrial fibrillation, you probably have many questions about the condition.
Atrial fibrillation is a type of heart arrhythmia. A doctor might say you have an arrhythmia if your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or in an irregular way.
What Happens to Your Heart during Atrial Fibrillation
Blood flows through four chambers of your heart: the left and right atrium chambers at the top and the left and right ventricle chambers at the bottom of your heart. Blood enters your heart through your right atrium, which pumps it to your right ventricle that sends the blood to your lungs. Oxygen-rich blood enters your left atrium, which pumps it to your left ventricle that sends it to the rest of your body.
In cases of atrial fibrillation, the two upper atria beat irregularly so they do a poor job of pumping blood to the lower ventricle chambers.
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation
Some people with atrial fibrillation experience no symptoms; many people do not even know they have the condition. Those who do have symptoms of AFib may experience:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations, which feel like rapid, fluttering, or a pounding heartbeat
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
You can experience AFib in brief episodes or as a permanent condition.
AFib is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. Between 2.7 and 6 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the number of people with AFib will likely rise while the population ages.
Atrial fibrillation, sometimes called AF, affects older adults more often than it does younger people. In fact, only 2 percent of people under the age of 65 have the condition while approximately 9 percent of individuals aged 65 and older have AFib. Because the incidence of atrial fibrillation increases with age and because women tend to live longer than men, more women have this type of irregular heartbeat. AFib can affect anyone but African Americans are less likely to develop this heart arrhythmia.
Certain risk factors for AFib can increase your likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation. Risk factors for AF include:
- Older age
- High blood pressure
- Being of European ancestry
- Heart failure
- Ischemic heart disease, such as coronary artery disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heavy alcohol use
- Enlargement of the chambers on the left side of the heart
If your doctor says you have atrial fibrillation, or you suspect that you have this common type of heart arrhythmia, consult with a heart doctor in your area.