Atrial fibrillation, commonly known as Afib or AF, is an irregular heartbeat caused by an abnormal heart rhythm that makes the upper heart chambers (the atria) quiver, or fibrillate. It’s the most common heart rhythm irregularity—or cardiac arrhythmia—and it’s estimated that by 2030, 12.1 million people in the U.S. will have Afib.1
While Afib itself generally is not life-threatening, the complications from Afib can be very serious, as it can increase the risk for heart problems such as heart failure and stroke. In fact, if you have Afib, you have five times the risk of having a stroke than people who don’t have Afib.2 To understand Afib, including how you can treat it, knowing how the heart functions normally is helpful.
Types of Afib
There are several different types of Afib. The symptoms for each type of Afib may feel similar, but how the condition is treated may differ depending on the type. In general, the types of Afib are classified by how long the arrhythmia typically lasts (duration) and the underlying reason for it.
- Paroxysmal fibrillation (PAF) – This type of atrial fibrillation (Afib) occurs when the heart rhythm spontaneously alternates between normal sinus rhythm and irregular rhythm. Still, each episode lasts no longer than seven days, and the heart eventually returns to normal sinus rhythm with or without treatment. One type of PAF is “holiday heart syndrome,” also referred to as alcohol-induced atrial arrhythmias that occur in individuals celebrating too much during holidays or other celebratory occasions like weddings. Many cases of “holiday heart” often stabilize within 24 hours.
- Sick sinus syndrome (sinus node disease, sinus node dysfunction) – This type of Afib occurs when the heart's sinus node—that part that stimulates the heart to beat in proper rhythm—isn’t working effectively. It’s a problem that tends to worsen with age and usually results in the need for a pacemaker to assist in keeping the heart beating in a normal sinus rhythm.
- Persistent (chronic) Afib – This type of Afib does not go away on its own and lasts longer than seven days. In these cases, medical intervention can be performed to restore the heart to normal sinus rhythm.
- Permanent Afib – This type of Afib lasts indefinitely, even when your doctor has tried to treat your Afib with medications and other treatments. This is when your Afib is considered permanent.