Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. It often causes the heart to beat unusually fast. The three main types of atrial fibrillation are: paroxysmal, persistent, and long-term persistent.
Doctors also categorize A-fib as either valvular or nonvalvular.Doctors need to determine the type of atrial fibrillation before they can identify the best treatment.
In some people, A-fib causes no symptoms, and a doctor might only discover it when testing for something else. Whether symptoms are present does not help a doctor classify A-fib. We explore the different types in detail below.
A paroxysm is a sudden episode of a disease or symptom. Paroxysmal A-fib involves an irregularity in the heartbeat starting suddenly and resolving on its own within
A person with this type of A-fib has no noticeable symptoms and may not need treatment. However, a doctor may prescribe anticoagulation medications to make it harder for the blood to clot. This may help prevent a stroke.
Episodes of this type of A-fib may occur intermittently, at irregular intervals.
Episodes of persistent A-fib are continual and last for
A person may not need treatment, but they are more likely to need medication or a procedure to restore the heart’s normal rhythm. Medications such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers can help control a person’s heart rate. A doctor also typically prescribes anticoagulants to prevent blood clots.
In addition to antiarrhythmic medications, a doctor may recommend a procedure such as cardioversion, which involves using synchronized electric shocks to control the rhythm of the heart. Another option is catheter ablation, in which a surgeon destroys any tissue that may be causing the irregular rhythm.
This refers to A-fib that has lasted for more than 1 year.
If, by this time, medications, cardioversion, catheter ablation, and other techniques are unable to restore a normal rhythm, and it seems unlikely that this will happen, the doctor may recommend ending efforts to control the arrhythmia. If the person agrees to this, the diagnosis becomes “permanent A-fib.”
The doctor might still prescribe medication that aims to control the heart rate and prevent blood clots.
If A-fib is nonvalvular, this means that it does not stem from a problem with a valve of the heart or a replacement valve.
Valvular A-fib results from a problem with a heart valve, such as mitral valve stenosis, in which not enough blood can pass from the left atrium into the left ventricle.
Any type of A-fib can be either valvular or nonvalvular.
It is vital that doctors determine whether a valvular problem is responsible for A-fib before they recommend a treatment plan. Newer medications that aim to prevent blood clots are available, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has
Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat. Doctors classify the types of A-fib depending on how long the irregularity in the heartbeat lasts and whether a problem with a valve of the heart is responsible.