Signs and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a disorder of heart rhythm with potentially serious complications. When disorganized electrical signals cause the atrial portion of the heart to fibrillate, the heart beats irregularly and more quickly than usual. The atria fills with blood as the two lower chambers of the heart do not fill effectively, raising risks of heart failure and blood clots. Although not all patients with atrial fibrillation experience symptoms, a variety of signs may indicate that the disorder is present.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation signs are often related to insufficient blood flow caused by the disorder. These signs include:
- shortness of breath
- poor exercise tolerance
The irregular heart rhythm of atrial fibrillation can cause uncomfortable sensations in the chest. For example, patients may experience palpitations, which are defined by flip-flopping or racing heart sensations and are uncomfortable. Feelings of chest pressure or pain can also occur. When this happens, heart attack may happening or about to happen.
Types of Atrial Fibrillation Affect Symptoms
Atrial fibrillation can be divided into occasional, persistent and permanent types. With the occasional type, the atrial fibrillation is paroxysmal, which means that symptoms go away and return later. Depending on the individual, symptoms may last for minutes or hours and suddenly disappear until the next episode. Persistent atrial fibrillation does not go away without medical intervention. Doctors may use medications or electrical shock to return the heart rhythm to normal when episodes occur. Finally, permanent atrial fibrillation is constantly present and requires medication for heart rate control. In a majority of cases, individuals with permanent atrial fibrillation are also prescribed blood-thinning drugs to reduce elevated risks of heart attack and stroke associated with blood clots.
Patients who suspect that their heart beats irregularly should see a doctor so that atrial fibrillation can be ruled out or diagnosed and medication can be prescribed if necessary. All patients with chest pain, including those with atrial fibrillation, should seek emergency medical attention immediately because this symptom may indicate current or impending heart attack. Atrial fibrillation patients should also become familiar with stroke symptoms and seek emergency care if those symptoms appear. Failure to seek medical care in either of these situations can result in serious disability or death.