About atrial fibrillation (AF)

Your doctor may have told you that you have atrial fibrillation – but what does this actually mean?

Normally, the heart beats in a strong, steady rhythm so that it can pump blood to all the parts of your body. In atrial fibrillation (usually referred to as AF or sometimes AFib), the heart beats in an irregular rhythm and twitches erratically. This irregular heart rhythm can cause blood to clot and lead to a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm condition, or arrhythmia, in the world affecting an estimated 33.5 million people across the globe. 3

▶  What is atrial fibrillation

Spot the signs early

The signs and symptoms of AF vary between individuals but you will usually have one or more of the following: 1, 2

  • Irregular heart beat
  • Racing and sudden pounding of the heart
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
▶  Signs and symptoms

"Pulse checks are a quick, simple and extremely low-cost way to detect if someone may have AF"

Trudie Lobban MBE
Atrail Fibrillation Association

How to detect atrial fibrillation?

In some cases, your symptoms will lead your doctor to suspect you have AF but your doctor may also spot it during a physical exam or test.

In the first instance, your doctor will check your medical and family history, including detailed questions about your symptoms, health habits, and health problems you or another family member have had. However, in order to confirm a diagnosis of AF, what is causing it, and the best way to treat it, you will need to undertake a variety of tests. These tests are usually performed by a doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating heart conditions (a cardiologist), and include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) - records the electrical activity of your heart to see if it is beating normally
  • Holter monitor - a portable ECG device that records your hearts activity for 24 hours or longer
  • Event recorder - a portable ECG device that is intended to monitor your heart’s activity over a period of weeks to months
  • Echocardiogram - a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to generate a video image of your heart
  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
▶  How is it diagnosed

Atrial fibrillation is often not detected until a serious complication such as a stroke or heart failure develops. 2

"Early detection could save millions of lives"

Mellanie True Hills
StopAfib.org