What is atrial fibrillation (AFib)?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Atrial fibrillation is a medical emergency that occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat erratically, quickly, and out of synch with the lower chambers. Because the heart doesn't pump blood well under these conditions, the body suffers from poor blood circulation. The complications that result from atrial fibrillation may be life threatening, though the condition itself isn't usually considered to be.

If your heart sometimes beats unevenly, you might be experiencing atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm problem in the United States. Along with creating uncomfortable symptoms, it can also increase your risk of other serious medical conditions:

  • Other heart rhythm problems
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
Dr. Richard T. Leshner, DO
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular rhythm of the heart. It originates in the upper chambers. It decreases the effectiveness of pumping of the heart. The heart doesn’t pump as efficiently, so the person has less energy.

There are many technologies that can be used to bring the heart back to  normal, regular heart rhythm. Doctors can often return people to regular rhythm without drugs or with minimal medications and improve cardiac output and the quality of their life. One in five people over age 65 will develop atrial fibrillation in their lifetime.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular and often rapid heartbeat that is caused by disorganized electrical activity. Normally the pumping of the heart is initiated at the upper portion of the heart and sent downward in a regular pattern, resulting in the typical heartbeat. In atrial fibrillation, this regular pattern is disrupted, and therefore the heart doesn't pump as expected.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the atrium contracts irregularly or with one portion contracting well before or after another. When this happens the atrium cannot push blood into the ventricles in the normal manner and your heart may feel like it is racing.

The most common form of abnormal heart rhythm is atrial fibrillation. Characterized by a very rapid, irregular rhythm in the upper or atrial chambers of the heart, atrial fibrillation is more common with age.

Dr. Theodore D. Richards, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Atrial fibrillation or AFib is the most common type of irregular heart beat. It occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) don’t beat in synchronization with the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart. AFib can be fast or slow and cause symptoms such as fainting and dizziness. AFib can also cause blood pooling in the left atrium where a blood clot can form. If the blood clot becomes loose, it can lodge in an artery near the brain, depriving it from oxygen and causing a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation is a common arrhythmia that affects about 2.2 million people in the United States. For reasons that aren't fully understood, the upper chambers of the heart periodically quiver erratically. As a result, blood swirls around and pools inside the upper chambers, especially the left atrium. The stagnant blood in the left atrium may form clots that can cause a stroke if they break loose and make their way to the brain.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia, which is the incidence of the heart beating irregularly. AFib is caused by a multitude of factors, some environmental, some behavioral and some genetic. It is often found in those with atherosclerosis, angina, hypertension, and in people with lung problems, including asthma, emphysema, pulmonary blood clots and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). AFib is also commonly associated with diseases such as stroke and heart failure, and as AFib becomes permanent in a person, mortality rates increase.

Approximately 2.5 million Americans experience atrial fibrillation (AFib) each year. This common heart disorder occurs when electrical signals in the heart become irregular, causing the heart to beat out of rhythm. The normal range for a heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute, while the heart rate in atrial fibrillation may range from 100 to 175 beats a minute.

Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Practitioner

Atrial fibrillation, also known as atrial fib, A. Fib, or AF, is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm. Atrial fibrillation causes the two upper chambers of the heart (called the atria) to fibrillate—or beat fast and irregularly—out of sync with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart. Your heart muscle’s main job is to keep your blood pumping through the body. Valves in the heart work to make sure your blood moves in a forward direction through the blood vessels, which function like pipes and circulate the blood around the body. However, the irregular heartbeat of atrial fibrillation interrupts the normal flow of blood through the heart.

Atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, is a common cardiac arrhythmia, or heart-rhythm disorder. It affects 3 million Americans.

This abnormal heart rhythm occurs when several electrical impulses in the heart fire simultaneously instead of systematically. This causes a fast and haphazard heartbeat.

You can think of your heart as having its own internal pacemaker. A series of electrical impulses causes the chambers of the heart to contract in a carefully timed sequence. This is your heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a condition in which the electrical system in the heart does not function properly. The two small upper chambers of the heart (the atria) quiver instead of beating normally. This results in blood not being pumped completely out of the chamber, so the blood may pool and clot within the top chambers of the heart (the ventricles). While atrial fibrillation does not always have serious complications, it can result in stroke or heart failure.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular heartbeat in which the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, quiver instead of contracting normally. Watch this animation to learn more about AF, most common cardiac arrhythmia.

Dr. Donald S. Rubenstein, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Atrial fibrillation is a disorganized rhythm of the upper chambers of the heart. Symptoms can range widely among different patients, being unnoticeable in some, while others may experience palpitations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, weakness and or dizziness. In some patients, atrial fibrillation may also lead to congestive heart failure or stroke.

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Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is the most common type of arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm.

AF occurs when rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the atria, the two upper chambers of the heart, to fibrillate. The term "fibrillate" means to contract very fast and irregularly.
In AF, blood pools in the atria and isn't pumped completely into the ventricles, the heart's two lower chambers. As a result, the heart's upper and lower chambers don't work together as they should.

Often, people who have AF may not feel symptoms. However, even when not noticed, AF can increase the risk of stroke. In some people, AF can cause chest pain or heart failure, particularly when the heart rhythm is very rapid.

AF may occur rarely or every now and then, or it may become a persistent or permanent heart rhythm lasting for years.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) describes an arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm. Several conditions—including valvular heart disease, high levels of thyroid hormone, and certain forms of heart failure (weakened heart muscle)—can cause it. Some people have no apparent cause—a condition called "lone" atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation can also accompany aging, and this is one of the reasons why the prevalence of this form of abnormal heartbeat is on the rise. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) wiggle ineffectively without pumping properly, and with chaotic rather than orderly contraction. This situation causes several troublesome problems.

Often, but not always, people with atrial fibrillation experience a rapid, irregular heartbeat that can be annoying or even frightening, and can also cause low blood pressure, low heart output, and faintness or fatigue.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular beating of the heart. This is the most common irregular heart rhythm and a risk factor for ischemic stroke.

Dr. Vivek Y. Reddy, MD
Cardiac Electrophysiologist

Atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter are the most common forms of arrhythmia. They are a leading cause of stroke and can lead to heart failure.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, beat out of sync with the lower chambers, called the ventricles. The resulting quivering leaves blood pooled in the atria, putting patients at risk for blood clots that can cause a stroke. The ventricles often compensate by contracting more rapidly, potentially enlarging and weakening the heart.

Temporary atrial fibrillation can revert to normal on its own. If it persists, doctors sometimes treat with medications, and when this fails or is not tolerated, doctors can perform a catheter procedure (called Catheter Ablation) to eliminate the cause of the arrhythmia.

Atrial flutter is similar to atrial fibrillation, but with more regular intervals between beats.

Dr. Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) affects more than 2 million Americans. Because it causes the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to beat in an irregular pattern that isn't coordinated with the lower chambers (ventricles), blood flow to the body can be hampered, leading to symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue. It also can lead to a pooling of blood, which can result in clots that could break free and wind up in the brain.

The biggest health concern for patients with AFib is the potential increase in the risk for stroke. For patients with heart valve conditions, such as mitral valve stenosis, or a prior history of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), that risk could be quite high. Other factors, such as high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes and advancing age, all increase the risk of stroke.

Age and cardiovascular disease are the strongest predictors of AFib. You may be at risk if you've had a heart attack or heart failure, or have other structural problems with your heart, such as valve disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.