Signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation 1, 2

Many people with AF have no symptoms or only vague, non-specific ones. Your heart should normally have a more or less steady rhythm so the most obvious sign of atrial fibrillation is an irregular pulse.

Other symptoms of AF may include:

Heart palpitations

Palpitations are heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable. In AF you may feel your heart begin to race (tachycardia) or beat in an irregular way, or it may feel like a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the chest.

Dizziness

This can happen suddenly, and you may feel light-headed or like you are about to faint.

Shortness of breath

You may find it difficult to breathe while you are doing normal activities, or even when you are just sitting down or resting.

Weakness

You may have a feeling of being overtired or lack the energy to do the things you would normally do.

Chest pain or discomfort

You may feel pain or pressure in your chest.

Remember, sometimes you may not experience any symptoms at all. This does not mean you do not have AF or your AF has gone away. 1, 2

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Sign and Symptoms - Take Action

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Common symptoms of AF

Common symptoms of AF

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Who can be affected?

The likelihood of developing AF increases with age. After the age of 40 our lifetime risk of developing AF is 1 in 4. 10 The important public health burden posed by AF can be better understood when compared with the lifetime risk for other conditions. For example, the lifetime risk for breast cancer for women aged 40 is 1 in 8, 11 and the lifetime risk of dementia in middle-aged individuals is approximately 1 in 6. 62

"After the age of 40, our lifetime risk of developing AF is 1 in 4"

Lloyd-Jones DM
et al. 2004

What are the risk factors for atrial fibrillation?

As people with AF can have vague, or no symptoms at all, it is important to be aware of the several factors that can significantly increase the risk of developing AF. 11

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is the most common health factor that can lead to AF. A blood pressure of more than 140/90 mmHg is considered high.

Heart valve defects

The heart contains valves to make sure that the blood flows in the correct direction when your heart contracts. A diseased or damaged valve can affect blood flow in two ways. If a valve does not open fully, your heart has to work harder to force the blood past the narrowing. Alternatively, if a valve does not close fully, blood can leak backwards. This can put a strain on the heart, causing it to work harder to pump the required amount of blood around your body. Valvular heart disease is found in approximately 30% of patients with atrial fibrillation. 1

Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition where too much sugar, or glucose, remains in the blood because the body doesn't properly convert it to energy. People who have diabetes are 2–4 times more likely to have a stroke than those without the condition. Diabetes may contribute to atrial damage and is found in 20% of AF patients. 2

Emotional and physical stress

Stress makes the heart beat faster, raises blood pressure and leads to the release of chemicals (hormones) that further increase the heart rate, which may eventually develop into atrial fibrillation.

Diet and lifestyle

Some foods or drugs contain stimulants, for example caffeine, which increase brain activity. They also make your heart beat faster and increase the blood pressure, which can cause atrial fibrillation.

Heart disease

Many heart problems are closely associated with AF. For example, up to 50% of people with congestive heart failure have AF, while 34% of people with AF also have coronary artery disease. 8,9 AF is present in nearly a third of people with cardiomyopathy (weakened heart muscle), and is also the most common complication after heart surgery, occurring in approximately 20%-30% of post-operative patients. 10

Age

The likelihood of developing AF increases with age. After the age of 40 our lifetime risk of developing AF is 1 in 4. 7