Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
Anormal heart rate should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you're resting. You can measure your heart rate by feeling the pulse in your neck or wrist.
In atrial fibrillation, the heart rate is irregular and can sometimes be very fast. In some cases, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats a minute.
This can cause problems including Lightheadedness, shortness of breath and tiredness. You may be aware of noticeable heart palpitations, where your heart feels like it's pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly, often for a few seconds or, in some cases, a few minutes.
Sometimes, atrial fibrillation doesn't cause any symptoms and a person with it iscompletely unaware that their heart rate isn't regular.
When the heart beats normally, its muscular walls contract (tighten and squeeze) to force blood out and around the body. They then relax, so the heart can fill with blood again. This process is repeated every time the heart beats.
In atrial fibrillation, the heart's upper chambers (atria) contract randomly and sometimes so fast that the heart muscle can't relax properly between contractions.This reduces the heart's efficiency and performance.
Atrial fibrillation occurs when abnormal electrical impulses suddenly start firing in the atria. These impulses override the heart's natural pacemaker, which can no longer control the rhythm of the heart. This causes you to have a highly irregular pulse rate.
The cause isn't fully understood, but it tends to occur in certain groups of people (see below) and may be triggered by certain situations, such as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or smoking.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting around one million people in the UK.
Atrial fibrillation can affect adults of any age, but it becomes more common as you get older. It affects about 7 in 100 people aged over 65, and more men than women have it.
Atrial fibrillationis more likely to occur in people with other conditions, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), atherosclerosis, or a heart valve problem.
Atrial fibrillation isn't usually life-threatening, but it can be uncomfortable and often requires treatment.
Treatment may involve:
Readmore about treating atrial fibrillation and the possible complications of atrial fibrillation .
If you have atrial fibrillation, your clinical team may pass information about you on to the National Congenital Anomaly and Rare Diseases Registration Service (NCARDRS).
This helps scientists look for better ways to prevent and treat this condition. You can opt out of the register at any time.
Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. In atrial fibrillation, the heart rate is irregular and can sometimes be very fast. In some cases, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats a minute.
Some people with atrial fibrillation, particularly older people, don't have any symptoms. The abnormality in heart rhythm is often only discovered during routine tests or investigations for another condition.
The exact cause of atrial fibrillation is unknown, but it's more common with age and affects certain groups of people more than others. Atrial fibrillation is common in people with other heart conditions.
Checking and assessing your pulse can give you a good indication of whether you have atrial fibrillation, but a full medical investigation will be needed before a diagnosis can be made.
Treatments for atrial fibrillation include medications to control heart rate and reduce the risk of stroke, and procedures such as cardioversion to restore normal heart rhythm.
People with atrial fibrillation are at increased risk of having a stroke. In extreme cases, atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure.
Frances, 57, was diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation and keeps her heart rate under control with flecainide. Every day, I experience extra heartbeats called ectopic beats, but they're nothing to worry about.
Rupert, 78, is a theatre director and regularly goes to the gym. In 2007, he was diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. "Atrial fibrillation hasn't stopped me from working as a theatre director. In fact, it hasn't affected my life at all." says Rupert.