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Atrial Fibrillation (also known as AF) is the most common type of heart arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat).
Atrial fibrillation refers to:
Atrial: involving the “atria”, the upper chambers of your heart
Fibrillation: rapid, irregular contractions of the muscles
In atrial fibrillation, the electrical signals in the chambers of your heart become chaotic and disorganised, making them contract very rapidly and in an irregular way.
This fast, irregular rhythm prevents the heart from pumping effectively, which can mean that the blood does not circulate properly around your body.
Some types of AF can be treated by a process called cardioversion. This is a procedure which uses a controlled electric shock to you heart, from a machine called a defibrillator, to get your heart rhythm back to normal.
Some people have no symptoms, and AF may only be discovered when a nurse or doctor feels your pulse and finds it to be fast and irregular. In other cases, poor blood circulation can cause some or all of:
If you notice a sudden change in your heartbeat and have chest pain, look for medical advice as soon as possible.
The risks caused by atrial fibrillation are higher for women than for men, although it is not clear why this is.
Sometimes AF develops without a clear cause. However, sometimes AF can develop alongside other medical conditions such as:
AF may be triggered, in whole or in part, by:
Learning to recognise your individual trigger factors, so that you can reduce or avoid them, can sometimes help to minimise your symptoms of AF. This could mean that you make significant changes to your way of living. You may need to make changes in your daily habits, like stopping smoking or cutting out alcohol.
This can be a difficult transition. If you tell your loved ones that you are making these changes, they are often able to support you and get involved. Habit change is often easier with someone to help you. Make sure that you get into healthy habits: drink plenty of water every day, eat healthily, and stay active wherever possible.
Visit our Living with a Heart Condition section for more information about how to manage your condition at home, how to stay well, and how to reduce your risk of future heart conditions.
Call our Advice Line for free on 0808 801 0899 or text NURSE to 66777 if you’d like information on support groups, AF or even just a trained listening ear. We’re here to support you and help you to build a healthier life.
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Read our Essential Guides for more information.
Download our booklet on Atrial Fibrillation to learn more about your condition and the topics discussed on this page.
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Download Your Heart Toolkit for advice and information about living with a heart condition.
Visit our Services page to find out more about the support that’s available after a heart attack.
This page was last updated on May 2, 2023 and is under regular review. If you feel anything is missing or incorrect, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to provide feedback.