Which Type of Atrial Fibrillation Do You Have?

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on November 01, 2022
3 min read

Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib, is a common heart condition. AFib doesn’t so much have types as it has durations. Doctors classify it by how long it lasts, or what causes it. Yours could change over time. Your treatment will depend on which you have.

This is an episode of atrial fibrillation that lasts less than a week. You might feel it happening for a few minutes or for several days. You may not need treatment with this type of AFib, but you should see a doctor.

You could hear it nicknamed “holiday heart syndrome.” This refers to AFib that follows a bout of heavy drinking. If your heart isn’t used to all this different activity, it may go into AFib. It also happens sometimes when you’re under extreme stress.

Usually, this lasts longer than a week. It could stop on its own, or you may need medicine or treatment to stop it. Persistent AFib usually starts as short-term AFib (paroxysmal AFib)

You’re more likely to get persistent AFib if you’re:

Doctors can use medicine to treat this type of AFib. If that doesn’t work, they might use a low-voltage current to reset your heart’s rhythm to normal. It’s called electrical cardioversion. Doctors usually do this procedure in a hospital while you’re sedated, so you won’t feel anything. You can go home after it’s done, but someone else will have to drive you.

This means your AFib has lasted for more than a year and doesn’t go away. Medicine and treatment like electrical cardioversion may not stop the AFib. Doctors can use another kind of treatment, such as ablation (which burns certain areas of your heart’s electrical system) to restore your normal heart rhythm.

If you have this type, you and your doctor will decide if you need long-term medication to control your heart rate and lower your odds of having a stroke.

Both valvular and nonvalvular AFib can cause blood to pool in your heart, which raises your risk of complications like blood clots and strokes. Your doctor will prescribe a type of medicine to help lower your odds of stroke.

A heart valve problem brings this on. It could be an artificial heart valve, valvular stenosis (when one of your heart valves stiffens), or regurgitation (a valve isn’t closing properly, which lets some blood flow the wrong way).Your chance of getting valvular AFib rises if you have mitral valve disease or artificial heart valves.

This is atrial fibrillation that isn’t caused by a problem with a heart valve. It’s caused by other things, such as high blood pressure or an overactive thyroid gland. Doctors don’t always know what the cause is.

You're more likely to get nonvalvular AFib if you:

  • Are older
  • Have had high blood pressure for many years
  • Have heart disease
  • Drink large amounts of alcohol
  • Have a family member with AFib
  • Have sleep apnea

This rapid, chaotic heartbeat comes on quickly and goes away quickly. It usually resolves itself in 24 to 48 hours. Causes include age, cardiovascular disease, alcohol abuse, diabetes, and lung disease.

This is the most frequent complication of cardiovascular surgery. It boosts your odds of heart failure and cerebral infarction, a brain injury that results from a blood clot blocking blood flow in your brain.

Doctors have many ways to treat atrial fibrillation, no matter which type you have. If you have symptoms, see your doctor to discuss what will be best for you.

Show Sources


Boriani, G.  Vascular Pharmacology, 2016.

Cunningham, J. Pursuing Improved Quality of Life In the Atrial Fibrillation Population: Evidence-Based Practice, University of South Carolina, 2012.

Holding, S. Nursing Times, August 2013

Judd, S. Omnigraphics, 2014.

McCabe, P.  Journal of Clinical Nursing, 2015.

BMH Clinical Evidence: “Atrial fibrillation (acute onset).”

Journal of Anesthesia: “Management of postoperative atrial fibrillation.”

American Heart Association/American Stroke Association: “Ischemic Strokes (Clots).”

NYU Langone Health: “Lifestyle Changes for Atrial Fibrillation & Atrial Flutter in Adults.”

UpToDate: “Overview of atrial fibrillation,” “Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.”

University of Chicago Medicine: “Atrial Fibrillation.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Atrial Fibrillation.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Atrial Fibrillation.”

My AFib Experience: “Exercising With Atrial Fibrillation,” “Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation,” “What Do I Need to Know About Exercise and AFib?”

Expert Reviews in Cardiovascular Therapy: “Persistent atrial fibrillation versus paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: differences in management.”

StopAFib.org: “How Atrial Fibrillation Progresses,” “Maze Procedure (Surgical Ablation),” “Using Electrical Cardioversion for Atrial Fibrillation.”

European Heart Journal: “Catheter ablation in patients with persistent atrial fibrillation.”

American Heart Association: “Ablation for Arrhythmias,” “Losing weight substantially reduces Atrial Fibrillation,” “Non-surgical Procedures for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF),” “Surgical Procedures for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF),” "A Patient's Guide to Taking Warfarin," "Atrial Fibrillation Medications," "What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)?" "What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)?" "Who is at Risk for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)?"

Europace: “The Registry of the German Competence NETwork on Atrial Fibrillation: patient characteristics and initial management.”

Heart Rhythm Society: “Types of Ablations.”

University of Michigan, Frankel Cardiovascular Center: “AV Node Ablation.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cardioversion,” "Atrial Fibrillation: Diagnosis & treatment," "Atrial Fibrillation: Symptoms & causes," "Mitral valve stenosis: Diagnosis & treatment," "Mitral valve disease: Symptoms & causes."

American College of Cardiology: "2017 AHA/ACC focused update of valvular heart disease guideline."

American Family Physician: "Diagnosis and treatment of atrial fibrillation."

Archives of Cardiovascular Diseases: "How to define valvular atrial fibrillation?"

CardioSmart: "Atrial Fibrillation Overview."

European Heart Journal: "What is 'valvular' atrial fibrillation? A reappraisal."

Heart Rhythm Society: "Complications from Atrial Fibrillation."

Journal of the American Heart Association: "Use of direct oral anticoagulants in patients with atrial fibrillation and valvular heart lesions."

National Stroke Association: "AFib-Stroke Connection."

Penn Medicine: "Do Heart Valve Issues Cause AFib?"

The Open Cardiovascular Medicine Journal: "Stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation and valvular heart disease."


View privacy policy, copyright and trust info