Myths and Misconceptions About AFib

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat). In AFib, very fast and irregular beats happen in the upper heart chambers. The atria may beat more than 400 times per minute.1

When the heart contracts, blood moves from the upper chambers (atria) to the lower chambers (ventricles). The ventricles then push blood to the rest of the body. A normal heartbeat is between 60 and 150 beats per minute.1

In AFib, problems with electrical signals in the atria cause fast and irregular beats. The ventricles have trouble keeping up. This can cause blood to pool in the atria. Pooling increases the risk of blood clots in the heart. This can lead to a stroke, because blood clots can travel to the brain.1

Understanding the facts about AFib can help you talk to your doctor about the condition. If you have AFib, treating it early can help reduce your risk of stroke or death.

Myth 1: AFib probably will not come back if you only had 1 or 2 episodes.

AFib is almost always a lifelong condition with recurring episodes. Early episodes may happen only once in a while. Or they may stop on their own within 7 days. This is called "paroxysmal AFib."1,2

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Over time, episodes become longer and more frequent. Episodes that last longer than 7 days are called "persistent AFib." Long-standing persistent AFib lasts over a year. More than 70 percent of people living with AFib have persistent or long-standing persistent AFib.2,3

Myth 2: If AFib does not cause symptoms, treatment is not needed.

Common symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, a feeling of fluttering in your chest, and shortness of breath. About 30 percent of people with AFib do not have symptoms. But even if you have AFib with no symptoms, you may still need treatment to prevent stroke.1,2

Talk to your doctor about your risk of stroke. For example, people over 65 and people with high blood pressure have a higher risk. Your doctor may prescribe certain drugs that prevent blood clots. These are called anticoagulants or blood thinners.1

Myth 3: Cardioversion restores heart rhythm permanently.

Cardioversion is an electrical shock that can restore heart rhythm. But heart rhythm may not stay normal after the procedure. Many people need medicine or catheter ablation after cardioversion. These additional treatments can help keep normal heart rhythm going. They can also reduce the risk of AFib episodes.1,2

Myth 4: Treatments are not working if you still have episodes of AFib.

There is no total cure for AFib. Medicines reduce the frequency and length of episodes. This can relieve symptoms and reduce your risk of stroke. But medicine may not work as well over time. If this happens, other treatment options may help.2

Catheter ablation is a common treatment option if medicine is not controlling AFib. It uses radiofrequency waves or extreme heat or cold to disrupt faulty electrical signals. Sometimes, multiple ablation procedures are needed to see benefits. The success rate increases after the first ablation.1,2

Catheter ablation and surgery can come close to curing AFib. But episodes are still possible. You may still need medicine to reduce your risk of stroke. It is also important to reduce your risk of AFib episodes by taking care of your heart. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle choices that can improve heart health.1,2

Myth 5: Only people over 65 years old have AFib.

Older age is a major risk factor for AFib. But AFib can also occur in younger people. People can develop AFib as children or young adults, although it is far less common. Earlier detection and diagnosis of AFib can improve health outcomes.4

AFib can run in families. Talk to your doctor about your risk for AFib. Other risk factors for AFib include:1

  • Alcohol use
  • High stress levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Thyroid disease

Myth 6: My doctor is too concerned about stroke and not concerned enough about my heart.

It may seem odd that a treatment priority for AFib involves stroke. But 1 of the biggest risks of AFib is a blood clot forming in your heart and traveling to your brain. This is why your doctor will often discuss stroke risk if you are diagnosed with AFib.4

Blood thinners can help reduce blood clotting. These drugs will not reduce symptoms of AFib. But they reduce your risk of stroke. You may need to take them even after catheter ablation. Other treatment options are available if you cannot take blood thinners long-term.1

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.

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