Atrial fibrillation

Irregular pulse or irregular heartbeat is known as atrial fibrillation, or AF.

With a normal heartbeat the blood is pumped in and out regularly, with all four chambers of the heart completely emptying at each beat.

In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat rapidly and out of rhythm with the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). This means the blood does not move through the heart completely or smoothly.

Because the blood is not properly pumped away, a clot can form in the heart. The clot can then break away from the heart wall and travel to the brain, where it may cause a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation is associated with one in four strokes.

It can happen in both men and women, and at any age. About 90% of people with AF are under 75 years of age. Most people diagnosed with AF have no family history of it.

Atrial fibrillation is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and lung cancer.


Control your risk

To find out if you have atrial fibrillation, a doctor or nurse will check your pulse. If it feels irregular they may refer you for more tests.

If you experience symptoms such as palpitations, weakness, faintness or breathlessness, it is important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Your doctor will also advise you on how best to manage your AF. There are a number of treatment options, including:

  • blood-thinning medications to reduce the risk of a clot forming.
  • rate/rhythm control medicine or medical procedures to make your heart beat slower or more regular.

More information

Living with atrial fibrillation (pdf)