Men with Canoe


Understanding is the key to finding answers.


Atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AF or AFib) is a common condition in which the upper chambers of the heart, or atria, fibrillate. This means that they beat very fast and irregularly so the heart can’t pump blood effectively to the rest of the body.

AFib is a serious medical condition that can increase the risk of stroke by five timesand over time, could lead to heart failure.

Normal Heartbeat

Normal heartbeat

A small pulse of electric current spreads quickly through the heart to make the muscle contract.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation

In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers quiver faster than the rest of the heart.

Watch Candice's Atrial Fibrillation Story

Hear about Candice's abnormal heart rhythm called "atrial fibrillation" and how long term heart monitoring helped her doctor manage her ongoing care so that she can continue to live life to the fullest.



  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Thumping or pounding heartbeats
  • A feeling that the heart is racing
  • Chest discomfort
  • Fainting or light-headedness
  • Fatigue, shortness of breath or weakness

However, some people have no symptoms and discover that they have AFib at a doctor’s appointment. Even for people who have no symptoms, AFib is a serious medical condition that can lead to complications.


Some risk factors that contribute to AFib can be controlled or modified, like managing high blood pressure and reducing alcohol consumption. Controllable risk factors include:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Excess weight
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Stress
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Lack of exercise
  • Some medications
  • Sleep apnea
  • Thyroid disorders


  • Family history
  • Advancing age
  • Heart disorders from birth
  • Gender — males have a higher incidence of AFib


If you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), or your doctor suspects that you do, heart monitoring may be necessary to determine how often and how long it occurs.

Sometimes episodes of AFib are infrequent and require longer-term monitoring and in some cases, your doctor may also want to monitor how effective different treatments are at keeping your AFib under control. Types of heart monitoring vary in terms of how long they can be used and how information is captured:

  • Holter Monitors
  • Event Recorders
  • Mobile Cardiac Telemetry Systems
  • Insertable Cardiac Monitoring Systems


These talking points will help you remember important information related to your symptoms to share with your healthcare team.

Remember to Share:

  • A description of your symptoms (if applicable)
  • The number of episodes you’ve had in the past 2 years
  • What you were doing before you had symptoms
  • Any concerns you have (e.g., safety, your job, driving)
  • Any treatments you are receiving for your heart
  • If your family has a history of heart conditions
  • How your symptoms are affecting your home and work life

Remember to Ask:

  • How will you determine if I have a heart condition?
  • What tests will you perform?
  • Would long-term monitoring with an insertable cardiac monitor lead to a faster diagnosis?
  • What should I do when I experience symptoms?
  • Should I be concerned about my symptoms?
  • Will I need treatment? If so, what kind of treatment? What other alternatives are there?
  • Do I need to restrict any activities?
  • Is it safe for me to exercise and go about my other daily activities?
  • Should I see a specialist?


If it is determined that you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), the treatment that’s best for you will depend upon your symptoms, the underlying cause of the AFib and how long you’ve had the condition. Generally, treatments for AFib focus on resetting or controlling the heart rhythm and preventing blood clots.

Lifestyle Changes

Making certain lifestyle changes may improve your overall heart health. Your healthcare team may recommend that you:

  • Eat heart healthy foods
  • Choose a low-salt diet
  • Exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake


Medication may be prescribed to control your heart rate or rhythm. In addition, anticoagulation (blood-thinning) drugs are aimed at preventing clots from forming that can lead to a stroke.


A procedure called cardioversion may be used to reset an abnormal heart rhythm back to normal. Cardioversion is performed either with medications called anti-arrhythmics or with an electric shock delivered to your heart when you are sedated.

Catheter Ablation

If medications or cardioversion don’t work or if you have side effects, catheter ablation is another option. During catheter ablation, either radiofrequency energy or cryotherapy  is directed through a catheter inserted in an artery, toward abnormal electrical pathways in the heart tissue. Either method scars the tissue and may normalize the erratic electrical signals to correct the arrhythmia.

Pacemaker or Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)

A medical device like a pacemaker or an ICD can detect and treat AFib early and suppress the onset of AFib.


2014; 370(26):2478-2486.American Heart Association. 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. Accessed October 2013.