What is Atrial Fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, is a common condition which causes your heart to beat irregularly.  This irregular, and often faster than normal, heartbeat can sometimes cause symptoms including:

  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • tiredness

A-fib can also cause noticeable heart palpitations.  These palpitations can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. But it’s important to understand it won’t always give you any noticeable symptoms.

Around 1 million people in the UK are thought to have the condition, and thousands more people are thought to be living with undiagnosed A-fib.

Causes and risks

A-fib can be caused by high blood pressure, excessive alcohol consumption or heart valve disease – but in many instances no underlying causes can be detected. A-fib can increase your risk of certain illnesses – it’s a major cause of stroke in the UK.  In fact, you’re 5 times more likely to suffer a stroke if you have A-fib.


A-fib can be uncomfortable for sufferers. If your doctor thinks treatment is necessary, he or she may prescribe medications like beta-blockers and anti-arrhythmic to help control the condition. Occasionally, your doctor may suggest further medical procedures like ablation and cardioversion.


An ECG (also called an electrocardiogram or EKG) is a painless test which records your heart’s electrical activity.  During an ECG, electrodes are attached to your ankles, wrists and sometimes your chest.  It’s the simplest way to check your heart rhythm and heart rate to detect any abnormalities, including A-fib.

Find out more about ECG and Atrial Fibrillation testing here.