Atrial Fibrillation: Causes, Types, and Management

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is a condition characterized by a quivery, fluttery heartbeat or an arrhythmia. This irregular heartbeat causes a disruption in the heart’s typical rhythm. AFib can impact blood flow, potentially leading to heart failure and the formation of blood clots, which can trigger a stroke if they travel to the brain.

What Happens in AFib?

In a normal heartbeat, the upper part of the heart (the atria) contracts before the lower part (the ventricles), facilitating blood movement. However, in AFib, the electrical signals controlling this process malfunction, causing the atria to contract independently.

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation

Occasional episodes lasting less than a week, potentially triggered by heavy drinking or high-stress situations.

Persistent Atrial Fibrillation

Usually originating as short-term AFib, it persists for over a week, often affecting older individuals or those with specific health conditions. Treatments involve medication or electrical cardioversion to reset the heart’s rhythm.

Long-Standing Persistent Atrial Fibrillation

Lasting over a year, traditional treatments might be ineffective. Methods like ablation may be utilized to restore normal heart function.

Permanent (Chronic) Atrial Fibrillation

This form cannot be corrected by treatments, requiring long-term medication to control heart rate and prevent stroke.

Valvular Atrial Fibrillation

Affecting individuals with specific heart valve issues, often caused by stenosis, regurgitation, or due to artificial heart valves.

Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation

Arises from factors like high blood pressure, heart disease, alcohol consumption, family history, or sleep apnea. It doesn’t stem from heart valve issues.

Acute Onset Atrial Fibrillation

A rapid, chaotic heartbeat that resolves within 24 to 48 hours, triggered by various factors such as age, alcohol abuse, or underlying health conditions.

Postoperative Atrial Fibrillation

A frequent post-surgical complication in cardiovascular procedures, elevates the risk of heart failure and stroke.

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

AFib may present with various symptoms, including palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Some cases remain asymptomatic. Immediate medical attention is advised if symptoms persist over 24 hours.

Diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation

Doctors diagnose AFib using several tests, including blood tests, electrocardiograms (EKG), chest X-rays, echocardiograms, CT scans, MRIs, and exercise stress tests.

Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation

  • Medication: Drugs to regulate heart rhythm, slow the heart rate, and prevent blood clotting.
  • Medical Procedures: Electrical cardioversion, ablation, maze procedure, mini-maze, or a convergent procedure to restore normal heart rhythm.
  • Medical Devices: Pacemakers for maintaining heart rhythm.

Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet, exercise, stress reduction, and abstaining from alcohol and smoking can greatly benefit heart health.

Atrial Fibrillation Complications:

AFib can lead to severe complications such as stroke, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, fatigue, memory loss, high blood pressure, among others.


While AFib may spontaneously resolve in some cases, for many, it’s a chronic condition. Its progression varies for individuals, and managing symptoms becomes crucial for better health outcomes.

If symptoms of AFib persist or if you’re at risk due to certain health conditions, consulting a doctor for appropriate diagnosis and management is advised.

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