An irregular and rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body is called atrial fibrillation. During atrial fibrillation, the heart's two upper chambers (the atria) beat chaotically and irregularly, out of coordination with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart. Atrial fibrillation symptoms often include weakness, heart palpitations and shortness of breath.

Occurrences of atrial fibrillation can come and go, or you may develop atrial fibrillation that doesn stop and may require treatment. Although atrial fibrillation itself usually isn't life-threatening, it is a serious medical condition that sometimes requires emergency treatment. It can lead to complications. Atrial fibrillation may lead to blood clots forming in the heart that may circulate to other organs and lead to ischemia (blocked blood flow).


Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition, but the symptoms include:

  • Weakness,
  • Palpitations,
  • Reduced ability to exercise,
  • Fatigue,
  • Lightheadedness,
  • Dizziness,
  • Confusion,
  • Chest pain,
  • Shortness of breath.

Atrial fibrillation may be: occasional, persistent or permanent.


Atrial fibrillation occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) experience chaotic electrical signals. A group of cells called the sinus node within the upper right chamber produces a signal that travels first through the atria and then through a connecting pathway between the upper and lower chambers (atrioventricular node). They contract, pumping blood from the atria into the ventricles below, where the signal triggers the ventricles to contract, pumping blood out to the body.

In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (atria) experience chaotic electrical signals and they quiver. As a result there is a fast and irregular heart rhythm (from 100 to 175 beats a minute) compared to the normal range for a heart rate (60 to 100 beats a minute).

Possible causes of atrial fibrillation include:

  • Heart attacks,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Coronary artery disease,
  • Abnormal heart valves,
  • Heart defects you're born with (congenital),
  • An overactive thyroid gland or other metabolic imbalance,
  • Exposure to stimulants, such as medications, caffeine or tobacco, or to alcohol,
  • Sick sinus syndrome — improper functioning of the heart's natural pacemaker,
  • Lung diseases,
  • Previous heart surgery,
  • Viral infections,
  • Sleep apnea,
  • Stress due to pneumonia, surgery or other illnesses

Risk factors

Certain factors may increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

These include:

  • Age,
  • Heart disease,
  • High blood pressure,
  • Other chronic conditions,
  • Drinking alcohol,
  • Obesity,
  • Family history.


Sometimes atrial fibrillation can lead to complications like stroke and heart failure.


Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart disease, so:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Increase the physical activity
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Use medications with caution, as some cold and cough medications contain stimulants that may trigger a rapid heartbeat
  • Reduce stress, as intense stress and anger can cause heart rhythm problems

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