Atrial fibrillation (Afib)

Atrial fibrillation (Afib), sometimes called arrhythmia, is the most common heart rhythm disorder. It increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart complications.

Atrial fibrillation (Afib), sometimes called arrhythmia, is the most common heart rhythm disorder. It increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart complications.

What's Afib ?

During Afib, the two upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat in a chaotic and irregular manner – not in coordination with the two lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles). This causes the heart to beat quickly (tachycardia) and irregularly, hence the term arrhythmia. Common symptoms include palpitations, shortness of breath and general fatigue.
Episodes of Afib can come and go, or you may develop persistent atrial fibrillation, which requires treatment to revert to a normal rhythm. Although Afib does not generally pose a threat to the patient’s life per se, it is a serious illness that sometimes requires urgent treatment.
It can cause blood clots to form in the heart, which can then flow to other organs and lead to a blood flow blockage (ischaemia).
Treatments may include medications and other procedures to modify the heart’s electrical system.


Some people affected by Afib do not have any symptoms and are not aware of their medical condition until it is discovered during an examination. Those who do have symptoms may describe:

  • Palpitations, i.e. feeling that the heart is beating fast, feeling as if the heart “wants to escape the chest”, faltering
  • feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced physical ability
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

When to see a doctor?

If you have the symptoms described above, make an appointment with a cardiologist. They will be able to carry out the necessary diagnostic tests.

Possible causes?

  • Age: the older you are, the higher the risk of developing arrhythmia; it is one of the risk factors.
  • Arterial hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart defects that you were born with (congenital)
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • Exposure to stimulants such as medications, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol or narcotics.
  • Lung diseases
  • Heart surgery
  • Viral infections
  • Sleep apnoea

Sometimes, no cause is found.

What are the complications?

Stroke: the chaotic rhythm can cause blood to stagnate in the atria, forming clots. If a clot forms, it can detach from your heart and get into your brain. Once there, it could block the flow of blood, causing a stroke. The risk of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation depends on your age (the risk increases with age), hypertension, diabetes, previous history of heart failure, previous history of stroke, as well as other factors.

Anticoagulants may considerably reduce the risk of stroke or damage to organs caused by blood clots. Heart failure.

Arrhythmia, particularly if uncontrolled, can weaken the heart and cause dysfunction of the pump function. Your heart can then no longer circulate enough blood to meet the needs of your body.

Other complications include

clot migrating to an organ other then the brain, or to the leg.
Increased risk of dementia
How to prevent the disease?
Like lots of illnesses including cancers, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle in order to prevent Afib.

  • Eat healthily
  • Take part in regular physical activity (for example brisk walking for 30 minutes, 3 times a week)
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintain an appropriate weight for your height.
  • To check this you can calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Limit or avoid alcohol
  • Reduce stress

Use over-the-counter medicines with caution because some medications, such as those for colds and coughs, contain stimulants that can trigger an increase in heart rate.

Find out more

We invite you to watch our video on Atrial Fibrillation for a more detailed inital explanation.
Your heart is formed of four chambers: two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). In the upper right part of your heart (right atrium), there is a group of cells called the sinus node. This is your heart’s natural pacemaker. The sinus node produces the pulse that normally triggers each heartbeat.
In Afib, the electrical signals received by the upper chambers of your heart (atria) are chaotic. As a result, they “quiver” or fibrillate, but no longer contract normally to eject blood.
The atrioventricular node – the electrical connection between the atria and the ventricles – is bombarded with pulses trying to reach the ventricles.
The ventricles beat quickly, but not as quickly as the atria, because not all the pulses get through. This is because the atrioventricular node is like the gates on the subway: only a limited number of people may pass through at any one time.

The result is a rapid and irregular heart rhythm. During AF, the heart rate can range from 100 to more than 200 beats per minute.
The normal range for the heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute.
However, AF is sometimes slower due to a “lazy” atrioventricular node.

3 types of Afib

  • Occasional, which is known as paroxysmal Afib. You may have symptoms that come and go, lasting a few minutes to several hours, then stop by themselves.
  • Persistent Atrial fibrillation: With this type, your heart rate does not return to normal by itself. If you have persistent one, you will need treatment such as electric shock or medication in order to re-establish your heart rhythm.
  • Permanent Afib: In this case, the normal heart rhythm cannot be restored. You will be in a permanent state of arrhythmia, but the symptoms can be treated effectively with medication or sometimes a pacemaker