Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Atrial fibrillation

4-minute read

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a form of irregular heart rate, or arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation occurs when one or both of the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) quiver or 'fibrillate' rather than beat normally.

It is important to diagnose and treat atrial fibrillation to help prevent serious complications such as stroke and heart failure.

If managed correctly, people with atrial fibrillation can lead a long and active life.

What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms. Others may have:

If you have chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes, or any other heart attack warning signs, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Atrial fibrillation can occur as a one-off episode, or can come and go, or can persist.

If you have symptoms that may be atrial fibrillation, it is important to see your doctor because it can have serious consequences. Atrial fibrillation reduces the heart's ability to pump blood properly. This increases the chance of a blood clot forming in the heart and travelling to the brain, where it can cause a stroke.

What causes atrial fibrillation?

The most common causes of atrial fibrillation are:

A less common cause is hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland).

Some factors may increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. These include:

How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?

Atrial fibrillation is usually diagnosed using an electrocardiogram, or ECG. If you have atrial fibrillation, your doctor will talk to you and examine you, and may order other tests such as a 24-hour heart monitor (called a holter monitor) or an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound).

How is atrial fibrillation treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, the underlying cause and other health conditions you may have.

Atrial fibrillation can usually be well managed. Treatments include:

  • Medication: to normalise the heart's rhythm or slow the heart rate. Some people with atrial fibrillation are advised to take medicines to reduce the risk of clotting to prevent stroke.
  • Electrical cardioversion: An electrical shock is delivered to the heart to reset the heart's normal rhythm. The procedure is done under general anaesthetic.
  • Pharmacological cardioversion: Medication is used to restore the heart's normal electrical rhythm.
  • Catheter ablation: A procedure that uses energy to destroy (ablate) the area inside the heart that is causing the abnormal rhythm.
  • Pacemaker: A small implantable device that stimulates the heart to maintain a regular heart rhythm.

Long-term management of atrial fibrillation

Most people are able to manage their atrial fibrillation and lead a relatively normal life. To look after your heart, it is important to take medications as prescribed, look after your general health, and visit your doctor regularly.

It is also important to live a healthy lifestyle to reduce the impact of atrial fibrillation on your life, by:

The Heart Foundation has more information about lifestyle changes to manage atrial fibrillation

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is one of a number of disorders commonly referred to as arrhythmias, where your heart does not beat normally.

Read more on WA Health website

Atrial Fibrillation | Heart Foundation

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia where your heart beats irregularly and fast. Read about the symptoms and treatment of atrial fibrillation now.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Arrhythmia | Heart Foundation

Heart arrhythmias are a range of conditions, which have a range of outcomes. Explore information about arrhythmia treatments, diagnosis and more now.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Heart conditions - atrial fibrillation - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Atrial fibrillation - MyDr.com.au

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common type of heart rhythm disorder. It is characterised by a rapid and irregular heartbeat and can increase the risk of stroke.

Read more on myDr website

Atrial fibrillation | Baker Institute

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation causes the heart to work inefficiently so it can reduce the person’s ability to exercise and may lead to heart failure.

Read more on Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute website

Cardiac arrest and defibrillators: A guide for consumers - Cardiac arrest

Anyone can try to save the life of someone who has experienced a cardiac arrest by acting quickly to restore the heart beat with CPR and defibrillation.

Read more on NSW Health website

What is cardiac arrest | The Heart Foundation

Discover what cardiac arrest is, what causes it and what you can do if someone has a cardiac arrest – read more now. In an emergency, call 000 immediately.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms)

Arrhythmia is when you have an abnormal heart rhythm and heart palpitations are an awareness of your heartbeat.

Read more on WA Health website

Fontan circulation and arrhythmia | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

This information is designed for use by young people with a Fontan circulation and their families

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo