Recognizing these signs of AFib and stroke can potentially save your life.
An arrhythmia is an irregular or abnormal heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of arrhythmia in adults, causing the heart to beat too quickly. During AFib, an abnormal firing of electrical impulses within the heart causes the top chambers of the heart, called the atria, to quiver or fibrillate (beat very fast).
Having AFib increases your risk of having a stroke. In fact, the risk of stroke in people with AFib is about five times higher than in people who don’t have AFib. That’s why it’s important to know if you have this serious heart condition so it can be treated.
Some people who have AFib have no symptoms and don’t even know they have the condition. It may be found when a doctor listens to the heart with a stethoscope or when some type of cardiac test is performed, such as an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, stress test or holter monitor. Others may experience symptoms but may not recognize that they are associated with AFib. The symptoms may occur frequently or only occasionally. They may also come and go.
Warning Signs of AFib
Many symptoms of AFib may be similar to other heart-related issues, including a heart attack. If you suspect that you are having a heart attack, especially if you have chest pain or pressure, call 911. Otherwise, if you have symptoms of AFib, let your doctor know.
- Palpitations – the heart may feel like it’s racing, fluttering, pounding, thumping or beating irregularly
- Chest pain, pressure or discomfort
- Dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue or lack of energy (in general or while exercising)
Warning Signs of Stroke
Since AFib increases your chance of having a stroke, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of stroke if you have AFib. Time is of the essence if a stroke occurs, and the faster you get to the hospital, the better the chance that doctors can provide treatment that may improve your recovery and could even save your life.
Stroke warning signs typically appear suddenly, are more apparent on only one side of the body and may include:
- Face weakness: one side of the face may droop or become numb
- Arm or leg weakness: one arm or leg may be weak or numb; arm may drift downward if raised; it may be difficult to walk
- Speech difficulty: speech may be slurred or hard to understand; the person may not be able to speak or repeat simple sentences; it may be difficult to understand other people’s speech
- Dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination
- Difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
What to Do If You Have Symptoms
If you suspect you may have AFib, or have any symptoms of the condition, talk to your doctor. Treatments are available, including medications, surgery and options such as cardioversion therapy. The goal of treatment is to control the heart rate, manage the heart rhythm and prevent blood clots from forming that may lead to a stroke.
However, because symptoms of AFib can often overlap with those of a heart attack or stroke (both of which require time-sensitive treatment), call 911 immediately to get to a hospital ASAP if you are concerned that AFib may be occurring along with a heart attack or stroke.
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Date Last Reviewed: July 19, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD