According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 6.1 million people in the United States could have atrial fibrillation (A-fib). A-fib is the most common heart arrhythmia, a condition in which your heart beats irregularly. Even if you have A-fib, you may never experience symptoms — you might not even know you have the condition. However, it's possible to experience A-fib symptoms that are unpleasant and interfere with your daily life.
Healthy, normal heart muscle usually contracts and relaxes in an even, predictable rhythm. But if you have A-fib, the upper chambers of your heart, the atria, beat in a quivering, irregular pattern. Because of this quivering, your heart doesn't move blood as effectively into the rest of your heart and body.
Even though A-fib can cause unpleasant symptoms, it's still possible to manage them with the help of your doctor. If you're concerned about symptoms you may have, or if you have symptoms that are getting worse, it's important to talk with your doctor as soon as possible to discuss your worries. Your doctor can help you determine the cause of your symptoms and come up with a plan for managing them effectively.
What Are the Most Common A-fib Symptoms?
By far, the most common symptom of A-fib is a fluttering or quivering sensation each time your heart beats. You may also feel like your heart is beating too hard, or that it's skipping a beat. Frequently, people living with A-fib may feel sensations of dizziness, lightheadedness, or fatigue as the heart muscle struggles to pump blood effectively.
In some cases, people who have A-fib have reported feeling like they couldn't catch their breath or that they were experiencing significant chest pain or pressure. If you experience these types of symptoms, you should call your doctor immediately.
How Are A-fib Symptoms Managed?
For most people, certain anti-arrhythmia medications are enough to effectively manage A-fib symptoms. Many of these medications, including beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and potassium channel blockers, can help to correct your heart's rhythm and control the rate at which it beats. With your doctor's guidance, you may need to try several medications before finding the option that works best for you.
If you have A-fib that doesn't respond well to medication, your doctor may recommend certain nonsurgical or minimally invasive procedures, such as electrical cardioversion or catheter ablation, to help reset the electrical activity of your heart and restore a normal rhythm. Both of these procedures usually have short recovery periods, but you may still need to take the anti-arrhythmia medications your doctor prescribes.
If your A-fib doesn't respond to any other treatments, your doctor may recommend a pacemaker as a treatment option. These small mechanical devices are surgically implanted under your skin near your collarbone to help prevent long pauses in your heart rate from occurring. A pacemaker should last for about 12 years before your doctor will need to replace the device's battery.
Your doctor will determine your treatment based on your unique medical history and the severity of your symptoms. While it may not be possible to "get rid of" your A-fib, there may still be ways to effectively manage your symptoms so that they don't interfere with your daily life.