Reading time: 3 min

Atrial fibrillation is a common form of arrhythmia, which means the heartbeat follows an irregular rhythm. It is associated with an ageing population and affects 1 in every 4 people aged over 80. It can cause blood clots and strokes and result in cardiovascular complications.

Atrial Fibrillation explained in first person

Professionals and patients explain how you live with the disease
There are many causes, the main being age.In addition, any heart disease can also aggravate this arrhythmia. There is a large group of people who have no heart disease, but who still suffer this arrhythmia due to hypertension.

Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia). Under normal conditions (sinus rhythm), both atria (left and right) expand and contract according to a uniform, rhythmic pattern in coordination with the two lower chambers (ventricles).

In the case of atrial fibrillation, however, expansion and contraction of the atria is disorganised, irregular and inefficient, which subsequently causes the ventricle to beat irregularly and produce an erratic pulse.

Classification of Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation usually follows a recurrent evolution, in other words, most patients experience alternating periods of normal sinus rhythm and atrial fibrillation. In this context, atrial fibrillation is classified as:

  • Paroxysmal. This corresponds to short-lived episodes of atrial fibrillation (lasting for less than 1 week) which generally appear and disappear by themselves.
  • Persistent. The episodes are longer (lasting for more than 7 days) and some sort of procedure is often necessary to stop the atrial fibrillation and re-establish a normal sinus rhythm.
  • Permanent. In this case the doctor and the patient agree not to perform any other procedure to mantain the normal rythm (sinus), so it is accepted that the patient is constantly in atrial fibrilation. 

This classification provides an approximate indication of whether the patient has an early or advanced stage of the disease. Nevertheless, it does not have any direct relation with the degree of severity or the risk of complications.

How many people are affected by Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. It is a relatively rare disease in people under 40 years old (less than 1 in every 100), whereas approximately 1 in every 4 people over 80 has atrial fibrillation.

Substantiated information by:

Alba Cano Valls
Eduard Guasch Casany
Josep Lluís Mont Girbau
Manel Castellà Pericas

Published: 27 November 2018
Updated: 27 November 2018

The donations that can be done through this webpage are exclusively for the benefit of Hospital Clínic of Barcelona through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica and not for BBVA Foundation, entity that collaborates with the project of PortalClínic.


Receive the latest updates related to this content.

Thank you for subscribing!

If this is the first time you subscribe you will receive a confirmation email, check your inbox

An error occurred and we were unable to send your data, please try again later.