About This Condition Atrial Fibrillation

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, known as AFib, is an irregular, rapid heart rate that may cause symptoms like heart palpitations, fatigue, and shortness of breath. AFib occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat out of rhythm. As a result, blood is not pumped efficiently to the rest of the body, causing an unusually fast heart rate, quivering, or thumping sensations in the heart. 

Not only can AFib negatively impact your quality of life, but those who have AFib are five times more likely to form blood clots and suffer a stroke.1 Fortunately, AFib may be treated with medication, cardioversion (a surgical procedure), or a catheter ablation procedure. 

View an Animation about Atrial Fibrillation

If left untreated, AFib as a disease continues to progress. There are three main types of AFib: 

  • Paroxysmal (occasional) — AFib occurs from a few seconds to days, then stops on its own
  • Persistent — AFib will last for more than seven days and will not correct on its own
  • Permanent — Patient and clinician joint decision to stop further attempts to restore normal heart rhythm

Find a heart rhythm specialist (electrophysiologist) who can help diagnose and treat your AFib.


Some people experience these symptoms of AFib:

  • Heart sensations, sometimes called palpitations, which may include irregular, thumping, or pounding heartbeats
  • A feeling the heart is racing
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Fainting or lightheadedness
  • Fatigue, shortness of breath, or weakness

Watch the video below to learn more about AFib and the symptoms associated with this condition.

You may have no symptoms but still be diagnosed with AFib at a doctor's appointment. Even without symptoms, AFib is a serious medical condition. Treating AFib may prevent stroke, fatigue, and heart failure. It has also been shown that treating AFib early may result in better outcomes.

Find a heart rhythm specialist, known as an electrophysiologist, who can determine if your symptoms are a result of AFib.


The causes of AFib are often unclear. In some cases, AFib may be the result of:

  • Heart abnormality from birth
  • Damage to the heart structure from a heart attack
  • Heart valve problem

People with otherwise normal hearts may also develop AFib.

To help prevent AFib, some risk factors may be controlled or modified.

Controllable Risk Factors Noncontrollable Risk Factors
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Excess weight
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Lack of exercise
  • Some medications
  • Sleep apnea
  • Family history
  • Advancing age
  • Heart disorders from birth


Detecting AFib and quantifying it can be challenging. Your doctor may use one or more of the following tests to determine if you have AFib:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Stress test
  • Longer-term monitoring devices
    • Event recorder
    • Holter monitor
    • Insertable cardiac monitor




Wolf PA, Abbott RD, Kannel WB. Atrial fibrillation as an independent risk factor for stroke: the Framingham Study. Stroke. August 1991;22(8):983-988.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.