What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Heart in Atrial Fibrillation

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Watch this video to get a better understanding of how it feels to experience AF.

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If you think you are experiencing symptoms of AF (AFib), download your Symptom Tracker to help you manage your symptoms and share them with your doctor.


Atrial Fibrillation, sometimes called AF (also referred to as Afib), is the most common heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).1

It occurs when the upper two chambers of the heart (the atria) contract too quickly or in an uncontrolled way.2

Your heart rate is controlled by electrical impulses that coordinate your heart’s contractions.3 With AF, these electrical impulses become irregular causing the upper two chambers of the heart (the atria) to contract in an uncoordinated way. This leads to an irregular and often fast heartbeat, which can sometimes feel like a flutter.

When your heart beats erratically, it does not pump blood as efficiently as it should. This may cause you to feel ill or experience other AF symptoms because oxygen isn’t being properly delivered to all parts of your body.

Atrial Fibrillation is not life threatening in itself. However, it is important to seek treatment not only to control symptoms but because AF can lead to more serious conditions like stroke.4

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation is a common health problem

AF is a common health problem which affects 11 million people across Europe, becoming more common with age. 1 in 4 people over the age of 40 are likely to develop AF during their lifetime.1,5

atrial fibrillation stroke risk

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation is a progressive condition which means it tends to start with short, infrequent episodes and progress to longer and more frequent attacks.6

For 1 in 5 people, without treatment, it will progress to cause persistent and longer-lasting symptoms.7,8,9

There are three main types of atrial Fibrillation:6,10

  • Paroxysmal AF: Also known as intermittent AF, this is when AF finishes spontaneously or by treatment within 7 days since the episode first began and may happen again
  • Persistent AF: Is when the AF episode continues for more than 7 days and is unlikely to stop on its own
  • Permanent AF: Is when the patient and healthcare professional make a joint decision to stop attempts to restore or maintain the natural rhythm of the heart


1. Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network (2016) Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 (GBD 2016) Results. Seattle, United States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2017. Accessed 2018-04-20. Available from http://ghdx.healthdata.org/gbd-results-tool. 
2. Iaizzo PA (2015). Handbook of Cardiac Anatomy, Physiology, and DeviceS. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC: Switzerland.
3. Waktare JEP (2002) Atrial Fibrillation. Circulation ; 106:14–16.
4. Odutayo A, Wong CX, Hsiao AJ, Hopewell S, Altman DG et al. (2016) Atrial fibrillation and risks of cardiovascular disease, renal disease, and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Bmj 354 i4482.
5. Lloyd-Jones DM, Wang TJ, Leip EP, Larson MG, Levy D et al. (2004) Lifetime risk for development of atrial fibrillation: the Framingham Heart Study. Circulation 110 (9): 1042-1046.
6. Kirchhof P, Benussi S, Kotecha D, Ahlsson A, Atar D et al. (2016) 2016 ESC Guidelines for the management of atrial fibrillation developed in collaboration with EACTS. Eur Heart J 37 (38): 2893-2962. 
7. Nieuwlaat R, Prins MH, Le Heuzey JY, Vardas PE, Aliot E et al. (2008) Prognosis, disease progression, and treatment of atrial fibrillation patients during 1 year: follow-up of the Euro Heart Survey on atrial fibrillation. Eur Heart J 29 (9): 1181-1189. 
8. de Vos CB, Pisters R, Nieuwlaat R, Prins MH, Tieleman RG et al. (2010) Progression from paroxysmal to persistent atrial fibrillation clinical correlates and prognosis. J Am Coll Cardiol 55 (8): 725-731. 
9. Schnabel R, Pecen L, Engler D, Lucerna M, Sellal JM et al. (2018) Atrial fibrillation patterns are associated with arrhythmia progression and clinical outcomes. Heart.Oct;104(19):1608-1614​.
10. Calkins H, Hindricks G, Cappato R, Kim YH, Saad EB et al. (2017) 2017 HRS/EHRA/ECAS/APHRS/SOLAECE expert consensus statement on catheter and surgical ablation of atrial fibrillation. Heart Rhythm 14 (10): e275-e444.

Disclaimer: The information featured here is not intended as medical advice, or to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. Please talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

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