Understanding the Different Types of Atrial Fibrillation

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an abnormal heart rhythm. The heart is comprised of four chambers. A heart that has a regular rhythm indicates that the upper and lower chambers are working in proper unison.

However, in instances of AFib, the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, quickly twitch causing the heart to beat in an irregular pattern.

Some people will experience symptoms with AFib, while others have no signs at all. AFib is not considered life-threatening. However, if left untreated, it can lead to more serious issues such as heart failure or stroke.

There are different types of atrial fibrillation, and their symptoms and treatments vary. Learning about each atrial fibrillation type may help you identify potential issues with your own health that you should discuss with your doctor.

Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation

Paroxysmal AFib is often referred by doctors as “holiday heart syndrome.” It gets this name because this type of condition usually only occurs in healthy people who don’t normally have irregular heart rhythms.

Instead, it occurs in people who are under an unusual amount of stress or participating in an unusually high level of activity in comparison to their normal life.


  • Heart rate goes in and out of normal rhythm for a short period (less than one week).
  • Inability to exercise
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Heart palpitations

While this type of AFib does not usually require any treatment, it is still important to discuss it with your doctor so you can establish any type of pattern.

For example, if you experience erratic heart rhythms due to having too many drinks, you may choose to alter your lifestyle to avoid it.

Persistent Atrial Fibrillation

This type of heart rhythm may stop on its own or may require medication. In some instances, doctors may need to use a low-current electric voltage to get your heart back in its proper rhythm.


  • Irregular heart rate is lasting longer than one week.
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Racing heart

The heart may return to a regular rhythm, but it’s best to discuss your options with a medical professional to choose the best treatment for your situation.

Long-Standing Persistent AFib

This is a slightly more serious condition that may require medication, electric shock or even ablation to burn sections of the heart to restore its natural rhythm.


  • Irregular heart rhythm is lasting longer than one year.
  • Fatigue
  • Chest tightness that comes and goes
  • Faintness
  • Inability to concentrate
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Permanent (Chronic) Atrial Fibrillation

In some situations, long-term management may be necessary for your heart health.


  • Irregular heartbeat that doesn’t respond to treatment.
  • Heart palpations
  • Feebleness
  • Confusion
  • Chronic sleepiness

If your body does not respond to typical treatments, then you may need daily medication to help control your heart rate and reduce your risk of a stroke.

Valvular Atrial Fibrillation

In some instances, there are physical reasons that your heart is not in proper rhythm such s the heart valve has stiffened, or it does not close properly.


  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness

Identifying the source of the problem will help doctors create the best treatment option for you.

Nonvalvular Atrial Fibrillation

This condition is described as an erratic heart rate that is not caused by valve issues. Outside issues such as sleep apnea or even stress or lung problems may play a role in the development of this type of AFib.


  • Tightening of the chest
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations

Do You Have AFib?

For some people, symptoms of AFib are persistent and noticeable while others may not experience any signs at all.

It’s important to continue regular checkups with your physician to check your heart rate to ensure that it is regular and consistent. If you notice any changes in your energy levels, concentration, or unusual tightness in your chest, then you should report that information to your doctor right away.

As you can see, there is quite a spectrum when it comes to AFib, and early detection is key to conserving your health.