Atrial fibrillation (or AFib) is the most commonly diagnosed type of heart arrhythmia in the United States, affecting as many as 6 million people. AFib happens when the heart’s two upper chambers — the atria — contract irregularly, resulting in a heartbeat that’s too fast or “out of sync.”
Board-certified in cardiovascular disease, Anthony B. Lewis MD, FACC, uses advanced techniques to diagnose and manage atrial fibrillation in patients at TLC Medical Group, stabilizing the heart’s electrical activity while reducing the risks of stroke, blood clots, and heart failure.
Like other heart ailments, early treatment is essential for staying healthy — and that means learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation.
#1: Heart “fluttering” or rapid heartbeat
Irregular heartbeat is the most common sign of atrial fibrillation, caused by the abnormal electrical “firing” in the heart’s upper chambers (the atria). Normally, the atria and the two lower chambers (the ventricles) contract in succession, keeping blood moving through the heart at a normal rate (your heart rate).
In AFib, the heart’s electrical signaling is “deregulated” or abnormal, causing the atria to fibrillate — beat too rapidly and chaotically. The normal flow of blood is disrupted, and blood winds up pooling inside the upper chambers, increasing the risk of heart damage and stroke.
#2: Extreme fatigue
Many heart conditions can cause fatigue, and atrial fibrillation is no exception. When the heart beats irregularly, it’s no longer able to pump blood efficiently throughout your body. That means your organs and tissue can’t get the blood they need to function the way they’re designed. The result: Feeling fatigued or even weak.
#3: Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath (also called dyspnea) is another fairly common symptom of AFib, caused in part by the lack of oxygen mentioned above. In advanced stages, AFib can make it harder to move fluids in your body. Eventually, fluid can build up around your lungs, making it harder to breathe. If your heartbeat is especially rapid, you can also wind up feeling out of breath, just as you do with intense exercise.
Your brain is one of the organs that may not get an ample, steady supply of oxygen-rich blood if you have AFib. Not surprisingly, that can leave you feeling lightheaded or dizzy — even a little confused. Some people may even faint.
#5: Chest pain
Your heart is an organ, and like any other organ, it needs a steady blood supply to function. If AFib interferes with the flow of blood to your heart, you may wind up with chest pain. Pain or heaviness in your chest can be a sign of a heart attack, so it’s important to seek medical care right away.
Treating atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation can often be treated successfully with medication to help stabilize your heart’s electrical activity. When medication isn’t effective in relieving symptoms of AFib, Dr. Lewis may recommend a minimally invasive procedure to treat the source of unusual electrical signaling or place a pacemaker aimed at regulating your heartbeat.
Being aware of AFib symptoms plays an important role in ensuring you get the care you need as soon as possible. If you have any symptoms of AFib, don’t ignore them. Schedule an evaluation at TLC Medical Group in Port St. Lucie, Florida, by calling or booking your visit online today, and learn how Dr. Lewis and his team can help you stay healthy.