Which Type of Atrial Fibrillation Do You Have?

Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib, is a common heart condition. There are different types, and yours could change over time. Your treatment will depend on which kind you have.

Types of AFib

Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation is when your heart goes in and out of normal rhythm for less than a week. You might feel this 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 may hear this type of AFib nicknamed “holiday heart syndrome.” Doctors call it this when it happens to otherwise healthy people who may be celebrating with a late night out or having a few extra drinks. If the heart isn’t used to all this different activity, it may go into AFib. It also happens sometimes when you’re under extreme stress.

Persistent atrial fibrillation usually lasts longer than a week. It might stop on its own, but it’s possible you could need medicine or treatment to stop it.

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 back 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.

Long-standing persistent AFib. 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.

Permanent (chronic) atrial fibrillation can’t be corrected by treatments. If you have this type, you and your doctor will decide whether or not you may need long-term medication to control your heart rate and lower your risk of stroke.

Valvular atrial fibrillation means that your AFib is caused by a heart valve problem. Some of these might include an artificial heart valve, valvular stenosis (meaning that one of your heart valves has stiffened), or regurgitation (meaning that you have a heart valve that isn’t closing property and lets some blood flow the wrong way).

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Nonvalvular atrial fibrillation is atrial fibrillation that isn’t caused by a problem with a heart valve.

The main reason why it matters if your AFib is “valvular” or “nonvalvular” is because it affects what type of medicine your doctor will prescribe to help lower your risk of stroke.

There are a lot of options 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 23, 2017

Sources

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.

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