Could it be ‘AFib?’

Could it be ‘AFib?’

What is “a fib?” No, we’re not talking about a little white lie. In healthcare, a fib (or AFib) is atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heart rate.

AFib is the most common irregular heart rhythm. It can lead to stroke, heart failure (see front page article), and other heart-related complications. Approximately 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

During atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly. This can cause blood to pool and clot, increasing the risk for stroke. This is why patients with AFib often are put on blood thinners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AFib causes about one in seven strokes. These strokes tend to be more severe than strokes with other underlying causes.

Abnormalities or damage to the heart’s structure are the most common cause of atrial fibrillation. AFib is associated with many conditions, which include the following:

  • Cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Pulmonary hypertension

AFib may or may not cause symptoms. Common symptoms include heart palpitations, lack of energy, dizziness, chest discomfort, and shortness of breath. Many treatments are available for AFib, including lifestyle changes, medications, catheter-based procedures, and surgery.

AFib “episodes” may be brief, with symptoms that come and go. It is possible to have an AFib event that resolves on its own, the AHA states. Or, the condition may be persistent and require treatment.

Both children and adults can develop atrial fibrillation, though its likelihood increases with age. People at higher risk for AFib include those with sleep apnea, diabetes, asthma, and other chronic medical conditions.