Ask the Doctor: Michael Panutich, M.D.

Q. What are the signs of atrial fibrillation?

A. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm. AFib occurs when the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) beat chaotically. This causes the two lower chambers (the ventricle) of the heart to beat fast and irregularly.

People with AFib may experience symptoms such as fatigue, heart palpitations (feeling an irregular thumping in the chest), dizziness, shortness of breath, anxiety, weakness, excessive sweating, and chest pain or pressure. However, it’s important to note that not everyone with AFib will experience symptoms. Many people have little or no symptoms.

AFib patients are five times more likely to have a stroke due to blot clots that form in the heart, which can break off and go to the brain. Strokes from AFib tend to be large strokes. Occasionally, in people who have no symptoms from their AFib, the first sign may be having a stroke.

Whether or not you notice symptoms, you may be more at risk to get AFib if you have any of the following risk factors: advanced age, high blood pressure, overweight, excessive alcohol consumption, kidney or lung disease, sleep apnea, thyroid problems, a family history of AFib, previously had heart surgery, or have any other heart or chronic conditions.

To reduce your risk of AFib or reduce complications if you have AFib, it’s essential that you get regular exercise, eat a heart-healthy diet, manage high blood pressure and cholesterol, do not smoke, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine.

If you have AFib or are concerned that you may, it’s important to speak with your physician. AFib is a very treatable condition but can lead to other conditions such as stroke and heart failure if not managed correctly.