Information & Advice for Arrhythmia Patients

Atrial fibrillation

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (usually referred to as AFib) is an abnormality in the rhythm of the heart (arrhythmia). It involves the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, beating irregularly. As the atria control the normal (sinus) rhythm of the heart this means that your pulse becomes irregular. AFib is the most common form of arrhythmia, affecting four out of every 100 people over the age of 65.

AFib can increase the risk of stroke; the irregular heart rhythm causes the blood to pool and this may cause a blood clot to form which can then be carried to the small blood vessels in the brain where it blocks the blood flow and causes a stroke. To reduce the risk of stroke your doctor will assess your risk factors and decide whether to start you on an appropriate blood thinning medication (anticoagulant), such as warfarin.

Further information on AFib is available from our sister charity, AF Association. Visit website


Description: http://www.heartrhythmcharity.org.uk/www/media/images/130425-Heart_image.png

There are many different causes of AFib. These include lung disease such as chronic bronchitis and pneumonia, disease of the heart valves, high blood pressure, heart failure, an over active thyroid gland or too much alcohol. However these are not the only causes, and for some there may appear to be no obvious reason.

For some patients, when they have developed AFib, they may spontaneously return to normal (sinus) rhythm after a short period of time. However, others may find they alternate between these two rhythms. This is called paroxysmal AFib.

Description: http://www.heartrhythmcharity.org.uk/www/media/images/130425-Drug_information_booklet_image.JPG


A patient may not feel any symptoms when the heart rate changes from normal sinus rhythm to AFib, and so it is often only detected by your doctor when you attend for other reasons. However, some patients may present with palpitations (being able to feel the increased heart rate), shortness of breath or chest pains.


There are various ways to treat AFib and these can be summarized in to two groups.

Some patients will require rate controlling therapy. This is using medical treatments to slow the speed of the pulse. For this the doctor may prescribe a betablocker (such as bisoprolol), or a calcium channel blocker (such as diltiazem) or digoxin.

Some patients will require rhythm control and attempts may be made to return the heart to sinus rhythm. This technique is called cardioversion and may be accomplished using medicine therapy such as amiodarone, flecainide or betablockers. Alternatively this may be attempted using an electrical current under general anesthetic.

AFib Films

Description: http://www.heartrhythmcharity.org.uk/www/media/images/Atrial_Fibrillation/Brenda_-_AF_Related_Stroke(1).JPG

AFib Related Strokes 

Nearly four years ago Brenda suffered a mini-stroke thought to have been caused by Atrial Fibrillation. Despite this warning sign she went on to have a full stroke just 18 months later.

To watch the full video, please click here.


Description: http://www.heartrhythmcharity.org.uk/www/media/images/Atrial_Fibrillation/Alan's_Story.JPGAF Patient Partnership

Alan is one of many patients with AF who are not always able to attend regular appointments, and so their care planning needs rethinking.

To watch the full video, please click here.


Description: http://www.heartrhythmcharity.org.uk/www/media/images/Atrial_Fibrillation/Philip's_AF_Story.JPGAF Patient Centered Care

Philip's doctor suspected he was suffering with Atrial Fibrillation and referred him quickly to the nearest hospital.

To watch the full video, please click here.

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