What Is Atrial Fibrillation (AF or AFib)?

What is AF or AFib? Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition where the heart quivers or has an irregular heartbeat.

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF) affects around 3 to 6 million people. It is the most popular kind of heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia happens when the heart beats too rapidly, too slowly, or in any kind of irregular way.

What is AF or AFib? Keep exploring to learn more about this condition, treatment, and when you should see a doctor.

What Is AF or AFib?

AF is an irregular or quivering heartbeat that can cause strokes, blood clots, heart failure, and other heart complications.

When someone has atrial fibrillation, the two upper chambers of the heart (or atria) beat irregularly. The blood does not flow properly to the lower heart chambers (or the ventricles).

It can happen in sudden or brief episodes. AFib can also be permanent.

There are different types of atrial fibrillation. It depends on how short the episodes are and if they last for prolonged periods. There are different treatments depending on the type of AFib.

AFib can increase your chances of a stroke or other heart complications.


Not everyone feels a racing heart with AF. You may feel some of the following:

  • Tired
  • Weak
  • Dizzy
  • Flutter in your chest (or palpitations)
  • Pressure in your chest
  • Pain in your chest
  • Confused
  • Shortness of breath
  • Faint

Some people with AF do not have any symptoms. This means people may not even know that they have it.

Risk Factors

As you get older, your risk for AF increases. High blood pressure also increases your risks. Other factors that increase your risk of AFib include:

  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Heart failure
  • Enlarged chambers of the heart
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • European ancestry
  • Heart disease

Any person can develop AFib. This includes children and adults. It is rare in children, but it does happen.

What Does AFib Feel Like?

You may feel a flutter when your heart beats. It may also feel like your heart is beating much faster than normal without reason. This feeling can last a few minutes.

It may also feel like your heart just skips a beat.

When to Go to the Doctor

If your heart doesn’t return to a normal feeling rhythm within minutes, you should call 911. Also, if symptoms continue to get worse, don’t wait to see a doctor—get help immediately.

You should also call 911 or go to the emergency room if you experience:

  • Dropping face
  • Pressure or pain in your chest lasting a few minutes
  • Trouble speaking
  • Cold sweat
  • Arm weakness
  • Extreme nausea

These could be signs of a heart attack or stroke.

If you don’t have these serious symptoms, your doctor will do tests to check the electrical impulses in your heart. It will show if you have AFib.

You can get treatments if you have an irregular heartbeat to get it back to a normal rhythm. Treatments can also lower your heartbeat.

Depending on your condition, your doctor may decide to just monitor without treatment. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to lower your risk for a stroke.

Take Care of Yourself

It’s important to take care of yourself. We’ve answered the question “what is AF,” so if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor. AFib can be serious if not treated.

Keep checking out our Health section to learn other ways to care for yourself and protect your heart.

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