What Are the Warning Signs of AFib? A Detailed Guide

Are you wondering what are the warning signs of AFib? If yes, you should check out our informative guide by clicking right here.

Close to 50% of adults in the United States suffer from some form of heart disease. Heart rhythm disorders, though, aren’t found nearly as often. Most estimates place that number at a mere 2%—not rare, but certainly not common, either.

Some forms of arrhythmia, like ventricular fibrillation, can be fatal. Others, like AFib, may not be noticeable unless you know what you’re looking for.

What are the warning signs of AFib, and what should you do if you think you have the condition? Keep reading for a detailed guide to atrial fibrillation.

What Is AFib?

Atrial fibrillation, more commonly known as AFIB, is an arrhythmia. This means it’s a disorder that makes the heart unable to beat in a normal rhythm.

Your heart is made up of four chambers that blood flows through; the right and left atria on top and the right and left ventricles underneath. The regular contraction of these chambers, atria and then ventricles, is what keeps your heart in the standard “thumpThump…thumpThump” beat.

Your heart’s rhythm is kept in check by electrical impulses. If these are disrupted, you end up with an arrhythmia.

Atrial fibrillation happens when the impulses that control your atria are weakened or irregular. Instead of beating in a normal pattern, your atria will quiver or “fibrillate”. This makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood, and it may try to compensate by increasing your heart rate.

For some people, symptoms will appear in an “attack” or “episode” and resolve by themselves within a week. This condition, known as paroxysmal fibrillation, may affect them a few times each year.

For others, the symptoms are constant and long-lasting. Doctors have methods of trying to restore the heart to a normal rhythm, but if they aren’t successful, the condition is termed permanent AFib.

You might be wondering, how common is AFib? According to some estimates, it’s present in more than 1% of the population, meaning around 3 million Americans have it. This makes it more common than any other heart rhythm disorder.

What Are the Warning Signs of AFib?

A fast or irregular “fluttery” heartbeat is the primary symptom of AFib. Some people refer to this feeling as “heart palpitations”.

Unless your doctor is already looking for an arrhythmia, the symptoms of AFib in the heart won’t always be the first thing you notice. Along with an irregular heartbeat, the early signs of AFib can include:

  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • General weakness
  • Early exhaustion when exercising, or the inability to exercise
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Feeling dizzy, faint, or confused
  • Excess sweating
  • Feelings of pain, tightness, or pressure in the chest
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic during an episode
  • Decreased or low blood pressure

Another question that people sometimes ask is “Can AFib cause back pain?”

It can, especially during an “attack” or “episode” where symptoms worsen. This tends to only be in the upper back, though. If you have AFib and experience lumbar pain, the two conditions are likely unrelated.

Risk Factors for AFib

The number one risk factor for AFIb is age. As you get older, your heart muscle and tissue begin to break down. This increases your risk for several heart conditions, arrhythmias included.

While older adults are at a much higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation, children and young adults can suffer from the condition as well.

The non-age risk factors for atrial fibrillation include:

  • High blood pressure and cholesterol
  • A family history of the condition
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • An unhealthy lifestyle with poor diet and exercise
  • Consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs
  • Diabetes (type I or II)
  • History of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs or “mini-strokes”)
  • Heart disease

Some of these risk factors are genetic, but the majority of them have something to do with lifestyle choices. As you get older, staying on top of your general health goes a long way toward keeping your heart free of arrhythmias.

The Consequences of Atrial Fibrillation

Many people live with atrial fibrillation for years and learn how to manage it.

Even so, the condition can lead to the formation of blood clots. This massively increases your risk of a severe, debilitating stroke. It can also make you more likely to develop heart disease or enter heart failure.

Doctors minimize your risk of developing these conditions by prescribing anticoagulant (blood thinner) medications. In some cases, they’ll also use electroshock therapy to try and bring the heartbeat back to normal.

These therapies are effective, but even so, it’s crucial for people with AFib to know how to recognize the signs of a stroke. If you think you or someone near you is having a stroke, follow the FAST acronym to check.

How to Tell AFibFrom a Heart Attack

The symptoms of atrial fibrillation, like chest pain and pressure, overlap with those of a heart attack. This can make it hard to tell the two conditions apart, but there are differences to look out for.

The pain associated with a heart attack tends to be more severe than with AFib. It can also radiate down your arm or up into your jaw. A “fluttering” feeling with mild pain and no radiation is probably AFib.

Despite all of this, if you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 and head to the Emergency Room right away—even if you know you suffer from atrial fibrillation already. It isn’t worth putting off the trip until its too late.

Don’t Ignore the Signs of AFib

If you think you might have atrial fibrillation, don’t wait to take action. Knowing the answer to “What are the warning signs of AFib?” will help you recognize the condition sooner. If you catch the problem and visit your doctor early on, you’re more likely to avoid the more serious complications associated with the condition.

Are you looking for more information that helps you stay on top of your health? If so, make sure to read through the other articles on our site.