Understanding AFib

That little flutter in your chest, not the kind the country singers croon about in sappy love songs, but the kind where you wonder “what was that?” That is probably something as your heart is programmed to beat at a regular rate.

When it goes out of rhythm it could be atrial fibrillation, commonly known as AFib or AF.

AFib can occur in anyone, and many people have this condition and are not even aware they have it. The symptoms of AFib – a racing pounding heart that happens for no reason, shortness of breath with light physical activity, feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness, and unusual fatigue should not be ignored.

AFib is an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) in which the muscles of the heart fail to contract in its usual strong, rhythmic fashion, according to the American Heart Association. Basically, the heart’s internal electrical system malfunctions and the heart chambers do not stay in rhythm.

Normally currents in the heart travel from top to bottom, starting at the top chambers, called the atria, travelling to the lower portions, telling it to contract.

When the heart is in an irregular quivering rhythm, it may not be pumping enough oxygen-rich blood out. (Think of the heart like a sponge, if the sponge isn’t squeezed all the water, water remains in the sponge and can get gross.) This blood may begin to pool inside the heart. When blood pools, a clot can form. Then, when this clot is finally pumped out of the heart, it can become lodged inside the arteries, potentially causing a stroke. AFib patients are five times more likely to have a stroke. Learn about the signs of a stroke.

A blocked artery prevents the tissue on the other side from receiving this oxygen-rich blood, and without oxygen, tissue will die. AFib can also lead to heart failure and other heart-related conditions, including heart failure and inconsistent blood supply.

Symptoms of AFib may include:

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Thumping in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Faintness
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue

According to the American Heart Association, at least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib. Some people have no symptoms at all, and yet they carry a five-times greater risk of stroke. Often times this condition is diagnosed at a regular checkup or discovered by a healthcare provider listening to their heart as they’re being seen for other illnesses. This is another reason regular medical check-ups are a vital part of keeping our bodies healthy. 

Those with a  higher risk of AFib include:

  • Older Americans
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • An underlying heart disease
  • Alcohol consumption, particularly binge drinking
  • Family history
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Athletes

September is AFib Awareness Month, download the American Heart Association FAQ About AFib

If you or a loved one has AFib learn more about it and why treatment can save lives, and to find out how to lower your risks and live a healthy life.

For any questions about your heart or any funny flutters that don’t belong in a country song, seek medical attention and contact your doctor or a cardiologist right away.


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