Sudden AFIB onset after near fainting, feeling like heart stopped

Hi all,

I was diagnosed officially with AFIB at the age of 27. I've had several episodes prior, never diagnosed, and in July I had two powerful episodes, the latter of which I went to the hospital for.

Right before each of the July episodes I had a sudden sense of missing heartbeats for 3 to 5 seconds before an intense surge of adrenaline and full on 190+ bpm AFIB. It was almost as if I was going to faint, pass out, and my breathing felt like it seized. Each episode I jumped up from my sitting position, quickly grabbed my chest for a beat, and fell into complete panic. For a brief few seconds it felt like it'd be "the end" for me.

Before the pause, I thought my heartbeat was normal. After the supposed pause in heart beats, I'd "kick on" with an intense flutter of a heartbeat followed by very distinguishable arrhythmia beats in my chest. At which time I was very worn out and dissociated.

When I went to the hospital I sustained an AFIB for over 20 hours before they cardioverted me.

Unfortunately I suffer heavily from anxiety as well. The combined "stop" of my heart followed by an intense flutter and uncontrollable heartbeat no doubt pushed me into a panic attack episode as well. It is arguably the worse feeling I've experienced and it's happened twice in one month.

To anyone so kind as to read my post, have you experienced anything like this?

The area I'm most concerned with is the several second "stopping" sensation of my heartbeat. In the moment I feel like I'll die, and it sends a jolt of intense adrenaline and panic through my system.

My anxiety is sadly pushing me to believe there is something beyond normal AFIB that is causing these episodes, and to be frank I'm having intense paranoia about sudden cardiac death.

I've now been placed me on a 30 day monitor to try and capture what the onset looks like for my AFIB and I still fear the worst. The doctor thinks it may be SVT related in some way.

Thanks so much everyone.

34 Replies

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  • Hi

    Afib is a strange beast and affects people in many different ways.Stress and worry bring episodes on for me at times,although not always to blame.Stress/ anxiety seem to make afib episodes a lot worse for me,so I actively use my coping strategies if I feel I'm getting upset/ anxious ( not foolproof of course) Afib is a weird thing,but I was told not fatal in itself,however the main worry is raised risk f stroke because of possible blood pooling in lower chambers of heart when it quivers and beats strangely. Your monitoring will show patterns which all help medics plan best for you r care, easy to say try not to worry but really do.This forum is good,lots of good advice and support.

    Keep your chin up x

  • Thanks for the support wilsond!

  • Hi Breadsander. I don't know if it's the same as I used to get, but it certainly sounds like it. As well as what you've described I would get like a darkness descend over me as though I was about to pass out, then just when I was at the point of that I would come back to normality. At the time it's a bit like time stands still. If this sounds the same as what you are experiencing then I can tell you that it's quite common for we AF folk. I've been experiencing this for many years and am still here to tell the tale. The York Hospital, UK cardiologist Sanjay Gupta has made a YouTube video on why this happens. I'll see if I can find it for you.

    Jean

  • Jean, your post brings me so much comfort. The "darkness" is spot on - I'm going to use that to describe it with my doctors. It's like time stands still, tunnel vision fades in, and for a few seconds there's nothing on my mind but my heart. It's absolutely terrifying. Then in an instant, after adrenaline floods in, I'm in AFIB and my heart rate has skyrocketed.

    If you find this video please do share it.

    I can't express how much this is helping me settle after being diagnosed this week. Thank you endlessly.

  • Is this it Jean?

  • I don't think its the one I was thinking of, I think mine was more about why we get dizzy spells and how we need to bend forward to help the blood supply. However very interesting, thank you.

  • I will look for that too thank you,I get very dizzy often and just sit down if I can .The darkness you describe is just spot on!!

  • Hi Breadsander -This is the one I was thinking of. I think yours is the same one updated CDreamer but I like the way he talks with the comparison to a hosepipe.

  • Thanks so much again Jean. Been watching several videos of his, including the ectopics / anxiety videos that are describing a lot of my condition.

  • I had the same thing happen just like you described and I thought I was going to die. I was just diagnosed in Dec and its never happened since. It really is terrifying . Thank goodness for this site and lovely people. Kate

  • Curious, did you enter AFIB right after coming "back" from the darkening episode? And are you aware if you were in AFIB before the event?

  • I must have been in AFIB before and during darkening episode breadsander. I hadn't been diagnosed at the time so I wasn't sure what was wrong. Kate.

  • You have described the type of episode I used to experience, especially the adrenaline rush, the missed beats (ectopics) and the near syncope (fainting).

    My worst episode lasted for 72 hours with high heart rate and low BP and not really able to stay awake.

    All of your symptoms are not unusual in AF although everyone experiences it very differently.

    The good news is that there are treatments - read the AFA website for help and advice. You can do things to help yourself, especially regarding the anxiety which unfortunately is a bedfellow of AF.

    There is a slow breathing technique which many people find very helpful - I call it the 7/11 breathing - it basically focuses on slowing your breathing down, taking a long time to breath in - count of 7 if you can manage it - and longer to breath out - with a pause between breath in and breath out. This can often help the ectopics and helps focus the mind AND there is a beneficial bio-feedback to the body,

    Anxiety in AF is both physical and psychological so CBT will help with worry thoughts.

    On a day to day basis - do things you enjoy as endorphins counter the stress hormones. Exercise and relaxation are also important.

    Read as much as you can and post here - the support and information you will receive is amazing and helped me in the initial stages on how to cope with AF.

    heartrhythmalliance.org/aa/...

    Sorry you are here but welcome.

  • Tremendous post! Thank you for all the input throughout this thread. It's been a great help and relief as I learn more and more.

  • I posted the link to Sanjay Gupta's video on YouTube above but he also has a FB page with good information and a lot of his videos.

    He also posts on this site - you can do a search on the home page of this group.

    facebook.com/yorkcardiologist/

  • Hi Breadsander,

    I was intrigued to read your post. You are the first AFer I know of to have experienced this feeling.

    The one I have is the 'shortened version' - feeling that my heart has stopped, immediately standing in a feeling of extreme panic and fear if imminent death. It sounds over the top I know, but is extremely frightening. Mine only last a few seconds as well, fortunately, I do not feel any of the heart beats and adrenaline rush that you describe, maybe because I am more or less asymptomatic. Can't imagine how awful that must feel.

    Mine are quite rare but always coincide with times stress and tiredness combined. I think it might be some kind of ectopic beat.

    I hope your monitor reveals more. Please post any results that explain this strange and awful feeling. Try to find ways of coping with your anxiety - many people on here have found strategies that really work.

    Good luck

    Angela

  • I would hazard a guess that the adrenaline is anxiety related. It feels like a panic attack when the draining feeling goes away. I'm much too hyper aware of my heart rhythm, and as soon as it's affected I instantly think it might be the end.

    I can almost always feel my heart at any time in my chest. Part of the explanation there may be that I have pectus excavatum and my rib cage and bone structure is a lot closer to my heart (and actually pushes it to the side some).

    Maybe awareness and subsequent panic leads to what I described above - a combination of near faint and adrenaline rolled into one.

    Just a thought. Thank you for posting!

  • The adranaline rush is the body's way of alerting you to a threat - that is the physical side of the anxiety - I got used to it and just perceived it as another physical symptom, not a nice one for sure.

    Funnily enough I often got it driving home after work - there is a particularly steep hill near home I had to navigate (Devon) and I would get this horrible adrenaline rush. It didn't always, but often did, be a precursor to an AF episode. It got to the stage that I drove a different way home!

    I then eventually remembered having nightmares as a child about being in a runaway car on my own going down a steep hill - I got the connection and worked on it and I no longer have a problem with that hill.

    Unfortunately I still have AF- LOL. X

  • I've twice had the sensation that my heart had stopped. I'd been well aware of it pounding away and then suddenly there was nothing. I could find no pulse. Just nothing anywhere and all sorts of very nasty thoughts went through my head. It lasted several moments (although my cardiologist has told me I was mistaken about this) and then I was back to as I'd been before. It was more than four years ago and once happened again very briefly a few months later. I have not had the same feeling again.

  • Hi Breadsander

    Yes I have had this in the past; you are not alone! I was breathing but I felt no oxygen going round my body until the heart kicked back in again and then was all over the place. Complete nuisance, but with correct medication now seems under control (for now)! Hopefully it will be the same for you.

  • "No oxygen going around my body" is another perfect description. It's as if my breathing closes off halfway into inhaling and I get no oxygen for 3 seconds or so.

    After which my body has flipped every possible panic switch and I get a horribly uncomfortable rush of adrenaline.

    Thank you for sharing. Our experience sounds so similar.

  • So familiar to me too, breadsander. In my visits to my GP before diagnosis, I always explained my distress as 'I cannot get my lungs to open so that I can take a breath'. This lasted for a couple of seconds, then came the pounding, followed by another pause ... and so on. So distressing, even when you know what it is.

    Like Jean, I remember a video by Dr Gupta where he explained how this happens. I remember it along the lines of - as the heart is not pumping normally, blood stays in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

  • Hi, poor chap! Anxiety and PAF is quite common. Your symptoms are fairly standard so don't worry! Sounds like you need to see an electrophysiologist to discuss options. Good luck!

  • I had stayed at the hospital for ~2 days and was seen by a very knowledgeable electrophysiologist. He assured me the condition was non-fatal (especially for my age), but anxiety keeps me second guessing. Hopefully I can work on fixing both of those aspects in my life.

  • Hi breadsander :-) it all all sounds horribly familiar to me except my episodes usually last no longer that 8 hours and I never go to hospital . Laying on a trolly for hours would only add to my anxiety. I prefer to lay on my bed with its crisp white sheets and the scent of lavender watching the trees outside while doing breathing exercises to calm myself , if this was to be my last breath that is where I wish to be.

    AF feels like my body is going into shock with huge surges of adrenaline that make me shake in addition to the other symptoms. I am a complete mess.

    I know now a bad episode of AF triggers both a panic attack and shock to the body and the best thing for me to do is to stay calm rather than fuel it with seeking to have people or hospitals around me.

    If I had chest pain as well I would of course seek attention.

    I don't think I will ever know what causes my P-AF episodes, there is no common denominator . The main thing is I now control the AF, it no longer controls me.

    Try to take something positive from this :-) unlike some people with silent AF we at least have had a warning and the chance to take preventative measures .

  • Thank you for sharing your story. The sheer feeling of panic and getting that under control is what I feel to be the most important thing in my recovery so far.

  • Yes...breadsander... exactly what happened to me at around your age..... came out of the blue, but usually when I was overtired. On a couple of occasions I half fainted and hit the floor! Doctors at that time, put it down to sudden drop in blood pressure and anxiety. It happened much less as I got older and learned to pace myself and not panic when the feeling started. Now many years later I have been diagnosed with afib. I am pretty sure I have always had it, or at least a fluttery heart..... and it is just one of those things. The secret is to be kind to yourself... lead as healthy a life as possible and learn how to cope with anxiety.....Note - I read somewhere that perfectionists are more likely to have panic attacks......!

  • Being tired definitely corresponded with the episode that sent me to the hospital. I never have fully fainted, but I've had the color drain from my vision and the "darkness" wash over me as Jean described above.

    Thank you so much for your input!

  • Hi

    I know its scary but what you are saying about anxiety afib and missed beats are all too common to us on hear i think we all have experienced them .

    so you are not alone 🌺

    You are having the cardiac work up so thats good 😳

    i am sure all will be normal for you

    What you could start doing is make lifelstye changes to find your triggets

    Is it your food ? Gut? Are you taking any sport drinks which have chemicals in them that can cause problem s to the heart .

    Address all caffeine, do you over excerise

    You can research your self

    You have age on your side 💪🏻

    A friend of mine had svt many times she could not take certain drinks and foods

    It will all be great new beginnjng of a healthy journey of one where u can only get healthier 🌺🌺🌺

  • Thank you so much Jamila. Research and comments like this have been very helpful to me.

    I feel my diet (food-wise) is fairly healthy, however my drinking habits are not. A lot of reading has indicated that alcohol is a major player in AFIB.

  • I often have a feeling that my heart and breathing have stopped just before I fall asleep at night. I used to panic and then my heart would start racing but now ,having realised that I am still alive, I wake myself up, have a drink of water breathe deeply and then I am fine for the rest of the night. It is not sleep apnea and I dont know what it is but now that I dont panic my heart doesnt start to race. We are strange creatures arent we! X

  • I've had a similar experience in the past. Almost as if *right* when I was about to turn over into a full sleep my body jolts with the feeling that my heart had dropped out. It has kept me up many times.

    Thank you for the reply dedeottie!

  • Before I started having meds for PAF, my attacks were just like yours. I was continuously petrified and didn't want to go out or do anything. I was drained and just wanted it to stop. Now six months after diagnosis I am feeling pretty good and in control. Attacks are not so symptomatic or powerful and I have days without any probs at all. I am taking 10mg Bisoprolol and an anticoagulant. Things will get better eventually for you.

  • Thank you for the reply Kn177yn0ra. Since my original post I too am having trouble going out or doing anything. "Continually petrified" is an exact fit. I've been reading nonstop about AF and a countless other heart abnormalities to try and level myself out (although sometimes this backfires and makes me think I'm *more* ill than I actually am).

    Hearing you've gone through similar experiences is very reassuring. Thanks again.

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