What are the Signs of Atrial Fibrillation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2018
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Signs of atrial fibrillation, a dangerous abnormal heart rhythm, can include dizziness, confusion, pain in the chest, and fatigue. Some patients, however, have no symptoms. It is important to receive regular medical evaluations if a person is at risk of atrial fibrillation, a common concern with some chronic health conditions, and to see a doctor if the heartbeat feels abnormal, even if the strange heartbeat is only episodic and returns to normal within minutes or hours.

When the heart goes into atrial fibrillation, multiple electrical impulses travel through the heart muscle, sending confusing messages. The heartbeat becomes irregular and disorganized. Instead of being steady, the rhythm is disrupted, and the heart may start quivering in the chest, rather than actively beating. This can potentially lead to a risk of stroke or heart failure, and treatment is necessary.

In intermittent atrial fibrillation, the problem occurs now and then and the heart returns to normal rhythm, sometimes within minutes, on its own. Persistent cases of the condition will cause an irregular heartbeat until a patient receives medical care, at which point it reverts back to normal. In permanent atrial fibrillation, it is not possible to correct the heart rhythm, and the patient may experience signs of atrial fibrillation all the time.


Early signs of atrial fibrillation may be mistaken for exercise intolerance, angina, and other heart conditions, especially when the problem goes away before a doctor has a time to listen to the patient's heart or order studies to see the heart rhythm. Common signs of atrial fibrillation often involve feelings of tightness and strain in the chest. The patient may experience pain because of restricted bloodflow, and can feel the heart flopping in the chest in palpitations.

Dizziness, confusion, fainting, and fatigue can occur as signs of atrial fibrillation when the supply of blood to the brain is disrupted and the patient's blood pressure drops. Patients may also develop shortness of breath because their blood is not adequately oxygenated. These are also symptoms of other heart problems and underlying diseases, and a doctor may need to order several diagnostic tests to find out more and determine the best course of action for the patient. These can include electrocardiograms and Holter monitor studies, where a patient wears a device to record heart rhythm over a period of several days.

Treatments for this condition vary. Often, an underlying disease is contributing to the problem, and getting the disease under control may resolve the heart rhythm problem. Medications may be available and a doctor can consider mechanical pacing, where an implanted device controls the heart rhythm for the patient. Surgery may also be necessary in some cases to remove damaged heart tissue.



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