How do you recognize atrial fibrillation and how serious is it?

The good news is that the arrhythmia is not life-threatening. But be aware, it usually needs to be treated to prevent damage to your heart.

What is atrial fibrillation?

In atrial fibrillation, your heart rate is almost twice as high as normal, often exceeding 150 beats per minute. “With a normal heart rhythm, electrical impulses are generated in one place in the atria, the sinus node. In atrial fibrillation, these arise in more places,” explains the Heart Foundation.

“The AV node is located between your atria and ventricles. Usually it lets through any stimulus. But this does not work if there are many stimuli, such as with atrial fibrillation. Then only a part is let through to the rooms. There are still more than usual.” The chambers contract quickly and irregularly, causing your heart rate to be much higher.

What do you feel?

Some compare atrial fibrillation with a heart rhythm that is out of whack, others describe it as unpleasant. If you go from a normal heart rhythm to atrial fibrillation, you will notice the following symptoms:

  1. Irregular heartbeat
  2. perspire
  3. Dizziness
  4. heart pounding
  5. shortness of breath
  6. Tightness in the chest
  7. Fatigue

What are the causes?

In some people, atrial fibrillation has an obvious cause, but in most cases there are several factors at play. This arrhythmia usually occurs in the elderly. For example, more than 18% of the elderly suffer from it. You are also more likely to get this if you suffer from (severe) overweight and apnea.

Known causes of atrial fibrillation include:

  1. Heart problems, such as myocardial infarction, heart failure, heart muscle disease, valvular heart disease, or congenital heart disease
  2. High bloodpressure
  3. Thyroid acting too fast
  4. Diabetes
  5. inflammation
  6. High alcohol intake

Is atrial fibrillation serious and what are the consequences?

Atrial fibrillation itself is not dangerous, but because it is hard on the heart, other problems can arise. These are the two most common problems:

  1. Creation of a blood clot that can block a blood vessel somewhere in the body, increasing the risk of a cerebral infarction
  2. Reduction of the pumping function of the heart resulting in (worsening) heart failure

Can you prevent or cure it?

You cannot cure atrial fibrillation on its own. Usually taking medication is enough to control the arrhythmia. If you suffer from atrial fibrillation due to ‘trigger factors’ such as coffee and alcohol, you can reduce the risk of another attack by stopping drinking these drinks.

These are known factors that trigger an attack:

  1. Alcohol
  2. stress
  3. Drugs (cocaine and amphetamines)
  4. Fever
  5. Anemia
  6. Intense effort

Although atrial fibrillation is more common in some families, there is no evidence that it is hereditary.

What should you do in case of atrial fibrillation?

Are you younger than 65 and do you suffer from atrial fibrillation for the first time? Then visit the hospital within two days where a cardiologist will investigate the cause. Prompt treatment sometimes prevents atrial fibrillation from returning or not returning as quickly. It doesn’t go away for all people. They usually have to use blood thinners.

Are you over 65 and do you suffer from atrial fibrillation for the first time? Then visit your doctor within two days to check your heart rate. If the atrial fibrillation has disappeared, you do not need any further treatment. If it’s still there or keeps coming back, you’re probably on medication.


In any case, if you have palpitations for the first time that don’t go away after a few minutes of calm, contact your doctor. You should also contact us if you suddenly have a fast or irregular heartbeat or palpitations that are getting worse.

Do you also suffer from chest pain, shortness of breath, shortness of breath, sweating, looking pale and feeling nauseous and/or dizzy? Then contact your doctor immediately.

Magnesium deficiency

What may help against atrial fibrillation in people with diabetes is maintaining the magnesium level in your blood. An analysis by physiologist Jeroen de Baaij and PhD student Lynette Oost of Radboudumc shows that there is a strong link between the magnesium level in the blood and the risk of heart complaints, such as heart failure and atrial fibrillation.

“A connection was also visible in the small vessels: more magnesium in the blood meant a lower risk of a diabetic foot and diabetic retinopathy,” says Lynette Oost. “People with higher blood magnesium levels were found to have a significantly lower risk of heart disease and both large and small vessels.”

Important note: Further research is needed to map the long-term effects of magnesium supplements in these patients. But it can’t hurt if type 2 diabetes patients take magnesium supplements.


To prevent atrial fibrillation as much as possible, you can do the following things:

  1. Take your medicines at a fixed time
  2. Keep moving
  3. Eat healthy
  4. Learn about the condition, treatment and consequences
  5. Discuss your wishes and concerns with the doctor

Source: Heart Foundation, Atrial Fibrillation, Home Doctor, Radboudumc

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