Atrial Fibrillation: Types & Symptoms

Instructor: Tari Rajchel

Tari has been a Registered Nurse for 29 years and has her Docotorate in Nursing Practice.

In this lesson you will learn about atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib and what the various stages are. We will also discuss all the different symptoms people with atrial fibrillation may have, including people who are symptom free.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Have you ever been so excited you could feel your heart race? Maybe your anticipation is high at a sports tournament, or you're meeting a crush face to face. This is normal, but what if you felt your heart race for no reason, or it ended up feeling painful? This could be because of atrial fibrillation.

AFib occurs when the atria quiver

Normally a heart contracts (tightens) and then relaxes to a regular steady beat. Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is a disturbance in a person's heart rhythm; specifically an irregular, very rapid beating heart. The upper chambers (atria) of the heart quiver or beat irregularly, which is commonly called an arrhythmia.

There are many types of arrhythmias, but AFib is the most common, affecting about four percent of those over the age of 60.

Three Stages

There are four types of atrial fibrillation which are paroxysmal, persistent, and long-lasting persistent.

Paroxysmal (par-ok-SIZ-mul) atrial fibrillation is the first type and describes a state where AFib comes and goes. People have AFib for a short period of time and then it goes away. It may last for a few minutes, sometimes a couple hours or up to a few days. Paroxysmal AFib never lasts more than seven days. This type of AFib goes away by itself and does not require any medications or any medical treatment.

Persistent atrial fibrillation is the second type that lasts for more than seven days or lasts less than seven days but requires medication and/or electrical cardioversion to stop the irregular heartbeat. Electrical cardioversion is where a physician shocks the heart with an electrical current to get it back into a normal rhythm.

Long-lasting persistent atrial fibrillation is the third type of AFib. This is where AFib lasts longer than one year and medication along with electrical cardioversion have failed to correct the irregular heartbeat. Long-lasting persistent AFib requires additional medical intervention.

Permanent atrial fibrillation, the fourth type, the irregular heartbeat doesn't go away, and the patient will need medications often to control it.


Many people with AFib have no symptoms associated with it and so do not realize that there is a problem with their heart. Others with AFib can tell as soon as their symptoms occur. The symptoms of AFib can vary greatly from person to person. A lot of people who have AFib feel fatigue (a lack of energy) or being overtired all the time. Similar to this some people notice they have difficulty with exercising or doing daily activities. People with AFib often say they feel like their heart is racing, skipping beats, flip-flopping, or that they feel a banging in their chest.

These feelings are likely due to one of the more common symptoms of AFib, heart palpitations. Some people with AFib feel pain, tightness, pressure or a general discomfort in their chest.

Your pulse is your heart beat. You can feel your heartbeat by placing your fingers either over your wrist or on the side of your neck. To determine your pulse rate count the beats for one minute, that would be your pulse. People with AFib also say they notice their pulse is faster than normal or it changes back and forth between fast and normal.

A pulse being checked.
Pulse Check

Other symptoms of AFib can be:

  • shortness of breath or a feeling that you cannot get enough air
  • feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint
  • abdominal (stomach) pain
  • increased urination
  • confusion

Lesson Summary

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is a disturbance in a person's heart rhythm; specifically an irregular, very rapid beating heart due to the upper chambers beating out of time with the lower ones.

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