Living with Atrial Fibrillation

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What is Atrial Fibrillation or `AF`?

What is Atrial Fibrillation

Finding out what AF is and how it affects your body is an important first step in understanding your condition and what it means for your health.

Here we’ll explain what’s going on inside your heart when you have AF and why it’s a condition you need to take seriously.

Watch: Atrial Fibrillation explained

Why you need to take AF seriously

AF can cause symptoms such as palpitations or shortness of breath, however some people with AF don’t have any symptoms. This is important because, even though you may feel fine, you have a high risk of having a stroke. AF increases the risk of a blood clot forming in your heart and travelling around your body. This clot can travel to the brain and cause a major stroke.

A stroke can happen when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, causing your brain cells to become damaged or die. This is very dangerous – it can be life-threatening. So, when you’re diagnosed with AF, you’ll most likely be prescribed an anticoagulant (blood thinning) medication. This, combined with a healthy lifestyle, will dramatically reduce your risk of stroke.

Find out more about strokes

Different types of AF

There are three categories of AF and they are each treated differently.

  • Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation (PAF) – episodes that stop within 7 days without treatment
  • Persistent Atrial Fibrillation – episodes lasting longer than 7 days, or less when treated
  • Permanent or longstanding persistent Atrial Fibrillation – continuous Atrial Fibrillation which has occurred for more than one year.

Your healthcare professional will be able to tell you what type of AF you have. Some people start with one type and go on to have another. It’s possible to progress from paroxysmal to persistent to permanent AF over time. So if your symptoms change, go back to see your doctor.

Getting diagnosed with AF

There are lots of different ways people get diagnosed with AF. You might have been living with uncomfortable symptoms for some time, or maybe you haven’t experienced any symptoms at all and your AF was diagnosed after a routine health check.

Either way, your doctor will be able to confirm if you’ve got AF after you’ve had some tests, which usually includes an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Find out more about ECGs

Next: What causes AF?

What we will cover next:

  • Common causes of AF
  • AF symptoms and why they happen
  • Checking your pulse and common tests

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Never delay seeking advice or dialling emergency services because of something that you have read on HealthUnlocked.