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If you have atrial fibrillation, or AFIB, then chances are your heart won’t be winning any prizes for efficiency. In fact, hearts with atrial fibrillation are notoriously inefficient. Imagine for a moment a band where the fiddle plays in one key but the guitar and bass are in different keys. The result is not good! Such is the case with atrial fibrillation.
Hearts in atrial fibrillation are unable to pump enough blood to adequately supply the body with enough blood to stay healthy and well oxygenated. The inefficiency is the result of an irregular -- and sometimes too-rapid -- heart beat caused when the upper chambers of the heart, or atria, are out of sync with the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart.
Atrial fibrillation is not a heart attack or heart failure and it’s generally not life threatening. However, the symptoms can be bothersome and may include conditions such as shortness of breath, general weakness, heart palpitations, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, chest pain, and confusion. It’s also possible to be asymptomatic and have no symptoms whatsoever.
Regardless of the symptoms experienced, atrial fibrillation should not be taken lightly. It’s a serious condition which requires medical intervention to help the atria and ventricles return to a normal rhythm pattern.
Types of atrial fibrillation: chronic versus paroxysmal
For some people, atrial fibrillation is not a constant companion and episodes may occur only occasionally. Atrial fibrillation that comes and goes is generally referred to as paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.
Persons with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation generally experience symptoms which last only a short time and then resolve on their own. On the other hand, some people may develop chronic atrial fibrillation and are constantly symptomatic.
Although many conditions may contribute to atrial fibrillation, the most common cause is either damage to the heart -- such as from a heart attack or prior heart surgery -- or some type of abnormality to the structure of the heart itself, such as abnormal heart valves or a congenital heart defect.