Paroxysmal, Persistant or Permanent: Types of Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, an irregular and rapid heartbeat, is surprisingly common. Medical researchers believe that close to 3 million people have it, and most of those people don’t think it’s very serious. The fact is atrial fibrillation or AFib, can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

People who have AFib experience sensations like their heart is fluttering or flopping about in their chest. They may find it hard to catch their breath or feel nauseated and weak. Some people don’t have symptoms and only discover the problem when they go to their doctor for something else. There are actually several main types of atrial fibrillation. They are:

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Paroxysmal AFib

In this kind of atrial fibrillation, the symptoms appear when the heart receives abnormal electrical signals and starts to speed up. The symptoms usually go away within a day or so but may last as long as a week. They may be so mild that the person doesn’t notice them, or they may be severe.

Persistent AFib

In persistent AFib, the symptoms last longer than a week. Again, they eventually stop, either on their own or after the patient is treated by their doctor.

Permanent AFib

In permanent AFib, the symptoms don’t go away without treatment. Both paroxysmal and persistent AFib can turn into the permanent kind.

Vagal AFib

This is a type of atrial fibrillation that is caused when the vagus nerve, a nerve found in the brain, sends the wrong signals to the heart. This type of AFib usually strikes men in early middle age and is not a consequence of heart disease or high blood pressure. It happens at night and lasts for a few hours. It’s not triggered by exertion, but happens when the person is relaxed, after he’s had a meal or has imbibed more alcohol than he should have.

Who Else Gets AFib?

People who get atrial fibrillation tend to be older and suffering from heart disease or hypertension. They also tend to be obese and have a family history of AFib. Other conditions that predispose a person to AFib include thyroid disease, diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease and metabolic syndrome. Sleep apnea, where a person stops breathing many times a night, is also a risk factor for atrial fibrillation.

How Is It Diagnosed?

AFib can be diagnosed several ways. The doctor can give the patient an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, blood and stress tests and X-rays to check their heart. Some people are fitted with monitors that check their heartbeat throughout the day. The results are then evaluated by medical staff.

How Is AFib Treated?

The goal is to return the heart to normal and to stop blood clots from forming. To do this, the doctor can perform cardioversion. In one type, he electrically stimulates the heart to return it to a normal rhythm. In another type, he prescribes medication to the patient for the same purpose. Other surgical and nonsurgical methods are used to return the heart to normal, and the patient takes anti-coagulants to prevent clots.