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Atrial Fibrillation

Over 37,000 people here are living with AF, and up to 10,000 may be living with it undetected.

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is a type of irregular heartbeat.

If you have AF, your heart will not have a regular beat and maybe abnormally fast. The heart may not empty its chambers of blood at each beat, so a clot could form in the blood left behind, which can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

A normal heart rate is usually anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute at rest, with a steady rhythm.

Atrial fibrillation can make your risk of a stroke five times higher.

  • Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is the most common type of irregular heart rhythm. It causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

  • Sometimes people with AF have no symptoms and their condition is only detectable during a medical examination or by having a health check with Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke.

    Some people may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

    • Feeling very tired
    • Feeling faint at times
    • Being breathless
    • Palpitations, fluttering or thumping in the chest
  • If your heart does not have a regular heartbeat, it may not empty its chambers of blood at each beat. A clot could form in the blood left behind, which can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

    • Between 30-40% of people may not be aware they have AF until they have a stroke.
    • Up to 25% of ischaemic strokes due to occur because of AF.

    People with AF are likely to have a much more severe stroke with:

    • Almost double the death rate from stroke
    • Increased disability from stroke
    • Longer hospital stay
    • Increased risk of a stroke happening again
  • Atrial fibrillation is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. But with the right treatment plan for AF, you can live a long and healthy life. Treatment plans for AF have two aims – to reduce the risk of stroke and to manage the day to day symptoms and effects of AF.

    In addition to taking your medication, you should aim to have a healthy lifestyle which you should discuss with your doctor.

  • If you are diagnosed with AF, your doctor will devise a treatment plan with two aims – to reduce your risk of stroke and to bring the rate and rhythm of your heart under control.

    Preventing a stroke

    Working with your doctor to reduce stroke risk is the most important thing you can do to make sure you have a good prognosis with atrial fibrillation.

    Your doctor may prescribe anti-coagulant medicines (blood thinners) to reduce the risk of blood clot formation. It is important to take anticoagulation medication exactly as prescribed to reduce your risk of stroke.

    Controlling your heart rate and heartbeat

    There are three potential treatments your doctor may carry out for the symptoms of AF to try to restore your heart to a normal rhythm:

    1. Prescribe medication – this will aim to control the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat.
    2. Cardio-version – this is a treatment where electrical signals are sent to your heart through electrodes placed on the chest.
    3. Ablation – this treatment uses heat or freezing on the area of your heart that’s causing the abnormal heart rhythm
  • The cause of AF is not fully understood but there are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing AF. Some health conditions including heart failure, high blood pressure or other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or thyroid disorders can increase your risk, as can having a family history of AF. As you get older, your likelihood of developing AF may also increase.

    While your risk of developing AF increases with the above mentioned factors, many people develop AF for no explainable reason.

    However there are lifestyle changes that can be made to help prevent AF and these include the following:

  • If you would like further support in managing your AF please contact us about our ‘Taking Control’ Self Management Programme. Taking Control aims to give people the skills and confidence they need to better manage their long term health condition.

    Find out more about how our self-management programme can help you take control of your AF condition.

If you think you have AF or if it has been detected during your health check with us, you should book an appointment with your GP immediately.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. It is a serious condition, but with the right treatment plan for AF, you can live a long and healthy life. Working with your doctor to reduce stroke risk is the most important thing you can do to make sure you have a good prognosis with atrial fibrillation. In addition to taking your medication, you should aim to have a healthy lifestyle which you should discuss with your doctor.

Find out more about our campaign to increase awareness of AF

Rosaleen 2 pages atrial fibrillation and heart rhythms

When I was diagnosed with AF, I didn’t know it was possible I could have a stroke. Afterwards, the GP told me that the second tablet they gave me would have prevented the stroke.

Rosaleen Fearon from Newry, who is living with Atrial Fibrillation and survived a stroke. She went on to attend our PREP programme.

Download our Atrial Fibrillation Factsheet:

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