Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is when a person has an irregular heartbeat in the upper chambers of the heart. Paroxysmal AFib is intermittent, stopping within 7 days, and often within 24 hours.

Paroxysmal AFib may or may not cause any symptoms. While it is not life threatening on its own, it can have serious consequences. As a result, diagnosing and treating the issue as early as possible is very important.

Keep reading to learn the causes, symptoms, and treatment for paroxysmal AFib.

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AFib occurs when atypical electrical signals in the heart cause it to beat quickly and irregularly. It can occur due to other heart conditions, such as:

Noncardiac causes include:

There are also several risk factors that increase the risk of getting AFib, such as:

Athletes who engage in intense, frequent, and prolonged physical exercise may also have an increased risk, but this is only in extreme cases.

Paroxysmal AFib does not always cause symptoms. If a person does have symptoms, they may include:

These symptoms can be similar to those of a heart attack. If a person is in any doubt about the cause, they should call 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.

Even if the symptoms go away, it is important for people to have a physical examination and monitor their heart’s activity.

A doctor will be able to diagnose the issue with a physical exam or an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG is a simple test that involves having sensors attached to the skin on the arms, legs, and chest. The sensors detect electrical signals each time the heart beats.

Doctors may also ask a person to wear a cardiac monitor for a set time to continuously monitor the heart. This may detect AFib that is intermittent.

People do not always need treatment for paroxysmal AFib. This is because the condition can resolve on its own. If the symptoms do not improve, a doctor may recommend:

  • Blood thinning medication: People with AFib are at a higher risk of stroke than others. Doctors may prescribe blood thinning drugs to stop the blood from clotting, which in turn decreases the risk of stroke.
  • Rate control medication: This is a common treatment for people with AFib and the preferred option for those with no symptoms. It aims to lower the heart rate and regulate electrical currents. This may involve taking beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, or digoxin if they do not help.
  • Rhythm control: This treatment aims to regulate the heart’s rhythm. It may involve drugs, the use of an electrical current, or both. For those with new AFib symptoms that have lasted less than 48 hours, doctors may use a method known as direct current cardioversion, which involves placing electrodes on the chest and using electricity to return the heart to a typical rhythm.
  • Catheter ablation: If the circumstances allow, doctors may try catheter ablation. This is an invasive procedure that involves scarring areas of the heart that are causing the AFib. During the surgery, a doctor inserts a thin wire, or catheter, into a vein in the neck or groin. They guide the wire to the heart, where heated electrodes scar the tissue.

If an underlying condition is causing paroxysmal AFib, a doctor may also recommend treating that to reduce the risk of more persistent issues. For example, they may suggest treating sleep apnea or high blood pressure.

A person can discuss their treatment options and whether they might be a candidate for certain medications or ablation with a doctor.

Lifestyle changes for paroxysmal AFib

In addition to medical treatments, there are also changes people with AFib can make to their lifestyle, such as:

  • stopping smoking, if applicable
  • avoiding alcohol, if applicable
  • eating a nutritious, balanced diet
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • reducing stress
  • treating mental health conditions that cause anxiety

Regular exercise can be a healthy habit. However, people with AFib should consult with a doctor before starting a new workout or increasing the intensity of their exercise.

Most cases of paroxysmal AFib pass on their own, but AFib can lead to serious consequences.

In the most severe cases, paroxysmal AFib can lead to heart failure or a stroke. The risk of stroke is around five times higher in people with AFib than in those without the condition. However, the exact risk varies depending on the individual.

This is because AFib affects blood flow around the body. Blood can become static and clot in the upper chamber of the heart. If this clot then reaches the brain, it can clog an artery and cause a stroke.

Stroke is a medical emergency. The signs of a stroke include:

  • face drooping
  • numbness or weakness of arm, face, or leg, especially down one side of the body
  • difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
  • dizziness, loss of balance and coordination, and difficulty walking
  • a sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Other potential complications with links to AFib include:

Living well with paroxysmal AFib involves:

  • managing the risk factors
  • knowing what can trigger AFib
  • working out a long-term management plan with a doctor

Here are some common questions about living with paroxysmal AFib.

Can I exercise or have sex?

While prolonged and intense exercise can contribute to paroxysmal AFib, moderate exercise can be helpful. The same applies to sex. A 2022 study states that most people with cardiovascular conditions can safely have sex.

People should discuss with their doctor what levels of exercise they would be able to cope with.

Can I drive?

Driving may be possible. However, paroxysmal AFib can cause dizziness or lightheadedness. People should check with a doctor about whether it is safe to drive before they try it.

If a person begins to experience symptoms of AFib while driving, they should pull over to a safe area at the side of the road and wait to see if they pass.

Can I still drink alcohol and caffeine?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that people with AFib limit or avoid both caffeine and alcohol.

Caffeine and other stimulants increase heart rate, which can contribute to AFib.

Can I travel?

If a person is receiving treatment for paroxysmal AFib and their condition is stable, they should be able to travel and take flights. However, people should always check with a doctor first, as extreme temperatures and high altitudes can sometimes cause issues.

When traveling, a person should make sure they have enough medication for the entire period of their travel. Long-haul flights also carry a risk of blood clots, so people can speak with a doctor about ways to minimize the risk.

How does paroxysmal AFib change over time?

Paroxysmal AFib often goes away on its own in 24 hours. If AFib continues for more than a week, the condition becomes persistent AFib.

If persistent AFib occurs more frequently, it may develop into permanent AFib. If this happens, treatment cannot restore a regular heart rhythm.

Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (AFib) describes a fast, irregular heartbeat that only lasts a few hours or days. Typically, it goes away on its own in under 24 hours, but it may last up to a week.

Sometimes, people are unaware they have paroxysmal AFib. Other people get symptoms, some of which can resemble a heart attack. If a person if unsure what is causing symptoms such as chest pain, breathlessness, or a racing heartbeat, they should see a doctor right away.

Paroxysmal AFib can go away on its own, but some people may need treatment and monitoring. A person can speak with a doctor to understand whether a long-term treatment plan or lifestyle changes could help.