What is Atrial Fibrillation

What is atrial fibrillation?

Arrhythmia, Cardiology, Medicine

In atrial fibrillation, the upper part of the heart beats in a disorganized manner. The motion it creates has been compared to that of gelatin.


Atrial fibrillation (afib) is a very common heart condition and THE most common abnormal arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) . Aging is the most likely reason why afib happens; almost one in ten people over the age of 65 have afib.  A person can also develop atrial fibrillation while they are very sick with another medical condition. Afib can happen in bursts, after which the heart returns to its normal rhythm. However, it can also persist for long or short periods, and even become permanent. 

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

The heart keeps us alive and conscious by keeping our blood flowing forward. It pumps our blood by squeezing its top and bottom chambers in an organized way. The top of the heart squeezes first, then the bottom part squeezes. This cycle repeats itself.

When afib develops, the top part of the heart stops working as it should, and instead of squeezing, it shakes like gelatin. This sends many shaky signals to the bottom of the heart, and can make it squeeze too fast and off-rhythm. This shaking in the top of the heart also makes the blood within it pool, which can create clots. If the heart breaks out of afib and back into normal pumping, these clots can be launched into the body, where they can cause a stroke.

When the top part of the heart shakes like gelatin. Rather than moving forward the blood inside of it pools, and can form clots that then travel through the body and can cause a stroke.

In afib clots can form in the left atrium

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

The symptoms of afib can vary from person to person. Some people that have afib don’t even feel it, and go on living their lives without any issues. On the other hand, some people will feel very ill, and experience things like nervousness, shortness of breath and chest discomfort. In extreme cases, the condition can cause people to pass out.

The way you feel when you have afib is one of the things doctors take into consideration when they decide how to treat you.

Stroke Risk

The chance of stroke varies depending on your age and medical conditions. In general, the older you are and the more medical conditions you have, the more this risk increases.  If your risk of stroke is high, there is medication you can take to protect yourself.

About the Author

Jose Taveras M.D. F.A.C.C.


Dr. Taveras is a non-invasive cardiologist in the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care in Bronx, New York. He trained in both internal medicine and pediatrics and is currently an assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Taveras is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology. He is the co-creator of Doctablet.

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Last Modified: Jun 17, 2017 @ 3:29 pm

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What is atrial fibrillation?
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What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (afib) is the most common abnormal arrhythmia. Afib can cause symptoms, and increases your chances of stroke.
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