What Does A-Fib Feel Like? Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is a common heart rhythm disorder characterized by irregular and rapid heartbeats. This condition affects the upper chambers (atria) of the heart, causing them to beat chaotically and out of sync with the lower chambers (ventricles). As a result, blood flow may be compromised, increasing the risk of blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other cardiovascular complications. In this article, we will explore the symptoms of atrial fibrillation and the different types it can manifest as.

What Does A-Fib Feel Like?
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Details In Short:

  • Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is characterized by irregular and rapid heartbeats.
  • It disrupts the coordination between the upper and lower chambers of the heart.
  • A-fib increases the risk of blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other complications.
  • Some individuals with A-fib may not experience symptoms.
  • Palpitations, a fast and pounding heartbeat, are a common symptom.
  • Dizziness, weakness, and lightheadedness may accompany palpitations.
  • Shortness of breath and fatigue occur due to ineffective blood pumping.
  • Physical exertion and lying flat can worsen shortness of breath.
  • A-fib has different patterns: paroxysmal (episodic) and persistent (non-reverting).
  • Medical intervention may be necessary to manage persistent A-fib.
  • Long-standing persistent A-fib lasts over 12 months; permanent A-fib can’t be restored.
  • Treatment aims to control symptoms and reduce complications.

The Silent Quiver: A-Fib with No Symptoms

For many individuals, atrial fibrillation may develop without any noticeable symptoms. This is referred to as asymptomatic or silent A-fib. People with silent A-fib may be unaware of the irregular heartbeats, and the condition may only be detected during routine medical checkups or when investigating other heart-related issues. Despite the lack of symptoms, it’s essential for individuals with silent A-fib to receive appropriate medical attention and treatment, as the condition can still lead to serious complications, particularly an increased risk of stroke.

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Palpitations: A Pounding Heart

One of the most common symptoms experienced by individuals with atrial fibrillation is palpitations. Palpitations are sensations of a fast, fluttering, or pounding heartbeat. When the heart’s atria fibrillate, they lose their coordinated rhythm, resulting in irregular contractions. This can make the heartbeat feel like it’s racing, skipping beats, or being forceful.

During palpitations, some individuals may also experience sensations of dizziness, weakness, or lightheadedness. These symptoms may be more pronounced during physical activity or emotional stress. It’s important to note that palpitations can occur due to various factors, and not all instances are related to atrial fibrillation. If you experience frequent or severe palpitations, it is crucial to seek medical evaluation for proper diagnosis and management.

Shortness of Breath and Fatigue: The Struggle to Catch a Breath

Shortness of breath and fatigue are two common symptoms experienced by people with atrial fibrillation. The irregular and rapid heartbeat in A-fib can disrupt the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. As a result, organs and tissues may not receive sufficient oxygen and nutrients, leading to feelings of breathlessness and tiredness.

Individuals with atrial fibrillation may notice that they become easily fatigued, even with minor physical exertion. Climbing stairs, walking short distances, or performing routine tasks might leave them feeling exhausted. Shortness of breath can also be triggered by lying flat, making it challenging to find a comfortable sleeping position.

A-Fib Paroxysms and Persistent A-Fib: The Ebb and Flow of Symptoms

Atrial fibrillation can manifest in different patterns, resulting in two main types: paroxysmal A-fib and persistent A-fib.

  • Paroxysmal A-fib: In this type, A-fib episodes come and go, and the symptoms are usually short-lived, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours. However, in some cases, paroxysms may persist for up to a week, and episodes can recur intermittently. Some individuals with paroxysmal A-fib may not require treatment, as the symptoms might resolve on their own. However, others may need medical intervention to manage and prevent further episodes.
  • Persistent A-fib: Unlike paroxysmal A-fib, persistent A-fib episodes do not revert to a normal heart rhythm spontaneously. Medical intervention, such as cardioversion or medication, is often necessary to restore and maintain a regular heartbeat. The symptoms of persistent A-fib can be more consistent and enduring, causing prolonged palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

5. Understanding Different Types of A-Fib: Duration and Treatment

Apart from paroxysmal and persistent A-fib, there are other types categorized based on the duration and characteristics of the condition.

  • Long-standing persistent A-fib: This type of A-fib is continuous and lasts for more than 12 months. It requires medical management to control symptoms and minimize the risk of complications.
  • Permanent A-fib: In permanent A-fib, the irregular heart rhythm cannot be restored to a normal rhythm. Treatment focuses on controlling the heart rate, reducing symptoms, and preventing blood clots.

It is important to consult a healthcare professional to determine the specific type of A-fib and establish an appropriate treatment plan.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you experience any symptoms associated with atrial fibrillation, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional promptly. Early detection and appropriate management of A-fib can significantly reduce the risk of complications, including stroke and heart failure. Additionally, if you experience chest pain, it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention, as it could be a sign of a heart attack. Chest pain during atrial fibrillation should not be taken lightly, as it may indicate an underlying heart condition requiring urgent treatment.


Atrial fibrillation is a prevalent heart rhythm disorder that can have varying symptoms and presentations. While some individuals may experience palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue, others may remain asymptomatic. It is important to understand the different types of A-fib and recognize the importance of early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. If you suspect you may have atrial fibrillation or are experiencing any related symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek medical evaluation and guidance from a healthcare professional. Remember, taking proactive steps towards managing atrial fibrillation can help improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of complications.

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