Learn the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

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Filed Under: Heart Health, Arrhythmia
Last Reviewed 02/20/2014

Learn the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

Recently, a reader on my blog asked me for the typical and atypical symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AF). That’s a good question because some people have AF and don’t know it. Yet, if left untreated it can cause long-term complications.

Atrial Fibrillation and its Symptoms

AF is an irregular heartbeat caused when the heart’s normal “pacemaker” is bombarded by competing electrical charges that originate in the atria, the upper chambers of the heart. These competing impulses initiate chaotic muscle contractions, so instead of contracting forcefully to move the blood out, the atria quiver or "fibrillate." This can send heart rates up to 130 to 250 beats per minute, or more.

Uncontrolled AF (episodes longer than 24 hours, or extremely high or low heart rates), can place a considerable strain on your heart. Occasionally, this can lead to a heart attack or congestive heart failure. There is also a risk that blood clots may form in the fibrillating atria. This can lead to the most dreaded complication of AF: stroke.

So, to get back to my reader’s question, what are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

The most common symptoms include a fast or slow irregular pulse that can cause chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, sweating, lightheadedness or dizziness. 

Or you may feel no symptoms of atrial fibrillation at all. Some of my patients with AF have said, "I thought I had the flu," and others have reported feeling "strange," weak or just "different." Even a cough or light headedness can signal AF. In fact, I’ve had patients with no symptoms but a cough. and they end up in heart failure.

The bottom line is that awareness is your best defense. If you experience either traditional or nontraditional symptoms of atrial fibrillation, it’s important to get it checked out right away. Prompt treatment is your best defense.

Now it’s your turn: Have you experienced symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

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