Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm, that can lead to serious heart conditions like blood clots and stroke. During AFib, the heart's upper chambers, or atria, beat irregularly and often rapidly. This can sometimes cause the two lower chambers, or ventricles, to also beat quickly and out of sync with the atria. When this occurs, it’s referred to as atrial fibrillation with rapid ventricular response (AFib with RVR). People with AFib are at risk of stroke, heart failure, and heart-related complications.

The Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute provides timely diagnosis and expert treatment. Our heart rhythm specialists treat various complexities of arrhythmias. 

Types of atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation can have various characteristics and affect patients differently. Doctors classify AFib by how long it lasts. Your condition may change over time.

Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation

Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation comes and goes on its own. Episodes can last for minutes or up to several days.

Persistent atrial fibrillation

When atrial fibrillation is continuous, it’s considered persistent. Persistent AFib typically lasts longer than a week and may require medication or treatment to return the heart’s rhythm to normal.

Long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation

This means your AFib has lasted for more than a year and may be more difficult to treat. In this case, medication and regular treatment may not stop the AFib. Doctors may choose another form of treatment, such as ablation, to restore a normal heart rhythm.

Chronic atrial fibrillation

With this type of AFib, the arrythmia can’t be controlled with medications or procedures. Long-term medications are needed to control the heart rate and lower the risk of blood clots and stroke.

Atrial fibrillation vs. atrial flutter

Atrial flutter is related to, but not the same as, atrial fibrillation. Atrial flutter is an abnormal heart rhythm that most commonly occurs in the heart’s upper right chamber and is more electrically organized than atrial fibrillation. Atrial flutter is often found in patients who have atrial fibrillation. Patients with atrial flutter experience some of the same symptoms found in atrial fibrillation. As with atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter also has increased risk of stroke.

Atrial fibrillation symptoms and causes

What does AFib feel like? Some may not experience any symptoms, but signs of AFib for those who do may include: