When you get nervous or very excited, does your heart race or feel like it has skipped a beat? While it may seem like a case of the jitters, your heart thumping could actually indicate a serious health problem known as atrial fibrillation or AFib.
Atrial fibrillation happens when the heart's electrical signals don't travel through the heart in a normal way. Instead, they become very rapid and disorganized. These disorganized electrical signals cause the heart's two upper chambers (atria) to fibrillate, or contract very fast and irregularly.
An estimated 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib.
The two main complications from AFib are stroke and heart failure. A person with untreated AFib is five times more likely to have a stroke than the general population.
While some people with AFib feel a 'fluttering' in their chest, some people do not notice a change in heart rate or rhythm, but may experience exertion fatigue. Others may have no symptoms at all.
If you do feel the fluttering, how can you tell the difference between anxiety and atrial fibrillation? Your physician will be the one to diagnose you for sure, but there's a lot you can learn by paying attention to your heartbeat and how it is communicating with you.
Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms
- Skipped heartbeat and then the feeling of a thud or thump followed by your heart racing for an extended period of time
- Heart palpitations or fluttering and jumping of the heart
- Sweating or chest pain, mimicking a heart attack
- Pulse is erratic or weak, instead of strong and regular
- Dizzy, weak, tired, or breathless, especially with exertion
- Decreased energy
If you experience these symptoms, it's important to tell your doctor about them and ask about tests that will verify if you have atrial fibrillation or any irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmia). The sooner you are diagnosed, the greater the chance of keeping it in check or eliminating the symptoms of AFib altogether.
Have Questions about Atrial Fibrillation? Download our brochure.
About Doylestown Health's Heart & Vascular Services
Expert cardiologists and cardiac surgeons assist patients and physicians with managing risk factors for heart disease, offer advanced treatment options and provide outstanding emergency cardiac care. Doylestown Hospital’s accredited Chest Pain Center is fully prepared to treat cardiac emergencies around the clock, focusing on rapid diagnosis and effective treatment. The multidisciplinary team at the Richard A. Reif Heart Institute is dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety.