What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a common type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Because the heart beats and contracts irregularly, blood flow in the atria is reduced and can cause the formation of a clot.
A blood clot that forms as a result of AFib and breaks free, is an example of arterial thromboembolism. If that clot breaks free, it can lodge in an artery, most commonly traveling to the brain and result in a stroke. The clot can also travel to other places such as the leg or arms
AFib causes palpitations but is often present without any signs or symptoms. That’s why early identification and management are critical.
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Risk Factors
- Age- the older a person is, the greater the risk of developing it
- Heart & vascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Thyroid disease
- Other chronic health conditions
- Drinking alcohol
- Family history
- Overactive thyroid
- Blood clot in the lung
- Males are at a higher risk
Chances are that you don’t pay much attention to your heartbeat. The pulsing in your chest is so routine that you forget it’s even there. While you go about your day, your heart is working hard to supply blood to the rest of your body, and most of the time, you don’t give it a second thought, but not everyone’s heartbeat is so steady.
Millions of people worldwide experience AFib. In this condition, the electrical signals that send blood through the heart become rapid, irregular and disorganized. This can cause the heart to pump less efficiently.
If you suspect you have AFib, checking your pulse can be a simple way to listen in on your heart beat and check for an irregular rhythm. To do this, put the index and middle fingers of your right hand on the inside of your left wrist, and feel for a pulse. Rather than counting the beats, pay attention to the rhythm and pattern.
If your pulse is irregular, your doctor may want to do some further testing to see if you have AFib. This will likely include asking a series of questions about your medical history and risk factors including:
- How long have you had symptoms? What are they like?
- Do you have other medical conditions?
- How much alcohol do you drink?
- Does anyone in your family have Afib?
- Do you have heart disease or a thyroid condition?
Your doctor will listen to your heart with a stethoscope and check your pulse. If they think further testing is required, they may arrange for you to have an electrocardiogram (ECG) or blood tests.
Talk with a healthcare professional about AFib. If you are a healthcare professional, take initiative and evaluate your patients for AFib/arrhythmia risk.
1 Wolf PA, Abbott RD, Kannel WB. Atrial fibrillation: a major contributor to stroke in the elderly. The Framingham Study. Arch Intern Med 1987;147:1561-4.
2 Kannel WB, Benjamin EJ. Status of the epidemiology of atrial fibrillation. Med Clin North Am 2008;92:17-40.
3 Paciaroni M, Agnelli G, Caso V, et al. Atrial fibrillation in patients with first-ever stroke: frequency, antithrombotic treatment before the event and effect on clinical outcome. J Thromb Haemost 2005;3(6):1218-23. PMID: 15892862.