In many patients, AF is intermittent; resulting in symptoms that are only present during an AF episode. Such symptoms can start and stop abruptly without apparent reason, adding to the anxiety patients frequently suffer as a result of AF symptoms.

About 30% of patients report no symptoms at all, and AF is only detected in these cases following a routine pulse check, or investigations as a result of another event or condition such as a stroke or heart failure.

In patients who do suffer from symptoms, they are often difficult for a patient to describe precisely but commonly include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (being unusually aware of a fast, powerful or irregular heartbeat)
  • Dizziness/light-headedness
  • Chest pain/discomfort
  • Tiredness


Symptomatic control of AF patients can be achieved with antiarrhythmic drugs and with procedures such as catheter ablation, which aims to isolate the atria (the heart’s upper chambers) from the source of chaotic electrical activity.  Many patients only receive treatment to reduce the stroke risk associated with AF, despite suffering from debilitating symptoms against which stroke prevention therapy has no effect.

The impact of AF symptoms on patients is often overlooked and underestimated.  This can lead to depression and anxiety (reported in 30% of symptomatic AF patients) in addition to a reduction of possible treatment options as the AF progresses.

In one qualitative study, some common themes emerged, highlighting the need that symptoms are both taken seriously, and addressed early:

  • Before being diagnosed, patients reported confusion and fear of symptoms and were often mystified during a search to understand them. Patients reported receiving no explanation of symptoms from healthcare professionals, and that symptoms were often dismissed, such as ‘panic attacks’
  • At diagnosis, patients reported relief, hope for the future and validation of their search to understanding their symptoms. However, diagnosis was also associated with many less positive experiences:
    • Lack of information and support from healthcare professionals
    • No education of the course of AF, or information on what to expect in the future
    • No acknowledgement of the negative impact that symptoms were having on patients’ lives
    • Inadequate education on how to manage symptoms
  • Following the start of treatment to reduce stroke risk, the unpredictable recurrence of symptoms was associated with distress, anxiety and loss of control
  • Eventually symptoms became associated with a perception of treatment failure and, hence, a persistent fear of suffering a stroke. The patient is left in a long-term state of despair, fear and with debilitating symptoms of which they have little understanding and no means to address.


As symptoms are often overlooked, and their impact underestimated; AF patients can feel dismissed, without support and without understanding at the hands of the healthcare professionals charged with the care of their AF.

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Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms

In many patients, AF is intermittent; resulting in symptoms that are only present during an AF episode. Such symptoms can start and stop abruptly without apparent reason, adding to the anxiety patients frequently suffer as a result of AF symptoms.

About 30% of patients report no symptoms at all, and AF is only detected in these cases following a routine pulse check, or investigations as a result of another event or condition such as a stroke or heart failure.

In patients who do suffer from symptoms, they are often difficult for a patient to describe precisely but commonly include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (being unusually aware of a fast, powerful or irregular heartbeat)
  • Dizziness/light-headedness
  • Chest pain/discomfort
  • Tiredness


Symptomatic control of AF patients can be achieved with antiarrhythmic drugs and with procedures such as catheter ablation, which aims to isolate the atria (the heart’s upper chambers) from the source of chaotic electrical activity.  Many patients only receive treatment to reduce the stroke risk associated with AF, despite suffering from debilitating symptoms against which stroke prevention therapy has no effect.

The impact of AF symptoms on patients is often overlooked and underestimated.  This can lead to depression and anxiety (reported in 30% of symptomatic AF patients) in addition to a reduction of possible treatment options as the AF progresses.

In one qualitative study, some common themes emerged, highlighting the need that symptoms are both taken seriously, and addressed early:

  • Before being diagnosed, patients reported confusion and fear of symptoms and were often mystified during a search to understand them. Patients reported receiving no explanation of symptoms from healthcare professionals, and that symptoms were often dismissed, such as ‘panic attacks’
  • At diagnosis, patients reported relief, hope for the future and validation of their search to understanding their symptoms. However, diagnosis was also associated with many less positive experiences:
    • Lack of information and support from healthcare professionals
    • No education of the course of AF, or information on what to expect in the future
    • No acknowledgement of the negative impact that symptoms were having on patients’ lives
    • Inadequate education on how to manage symptoms
  • Following the start of treatment to reduce stroke risk, the unpredictable recurrence of symptoms was associated with distress, anxiety and loss of control
  • Eventually symptoms became associated with a perception of treatment failure and, hence, a persistent fear of suffering a stroke. The patient is left in a long-term state of despair, fear and with debilitating symptoms of which they have little understanding and no means to address.


As symptoms are often overlooked, and their impact underestimated; AF patients can feel dismissed, without support and without understanding at the hands of the healthcare professionals charged with the care of their AF.

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