The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 12 million people in the United States are predicted to have atrial fibrillation (AFib) by 2030. AFib is a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, and your risk of developing it increases with age.
The experts at Maryland Cardiology Associates in Greenbelt, Maryland, treat numerous patients with AFib, and we’ve found that not everyone understands the specific type of AFib they have. In this post, we describe each of the four types of atrial fibrillation.
At one time cases of AFib were classified as either chronic (ongoing) or acute (temporary). The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association introduced new guidelines and created four categories—paroxysmal, persistent, long-standing persistent, and permanent AFib.
A paroxysm is defined as “a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms.” If you experience paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, you have a brief event. It may last one day or one week.
Some people don’t feel anything at all, while others feel the AFib strongly. If it happens more than once, you need medical treatment because it may not go away on its own.
As you might expect, persistent AFib lasts a bit longer — at least seven days. Persistent AFib may require medical intervention to get your heartbeat to return to a normal rhythm. One common treatment is called cardioversion, or shocking your heart back into rhythm.
Long-standing persistent AFib
If your heart is out of rhythm for more than a year, you have what’s called long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation. In this situation, medication, lifestyle changes, and treatments like cardioversion don’t help.
Other treatments, such as ablation, may be necessary for your heart to return to a normal rhythm.
If you don’t seek treatment for your AFib, it can progress from paroxysmal to persistent to long-term, and eventually become permanent. If treatments don’t work, you might be safer if your doctor stops treatments, though there are serious drawbacks. You may experience a lower quality of life and have a higher risk of a serious cardiovascular event such as a stroke.
Treatments for AFib
As you may have noticed, the difference in AFib types largely has to do with how long episodes last. Doctors have a variety of treatments available, and the best one depends on the type of AFib you have, what other treatment approaches have been tried, and your medical history.
Lifestyle changes, such as beginning a regular exercise routine, limiting alcohol consumption, losing weight if you’re overweight or obese, and getting treatment for any sleep disorders, are a good first step, and in cases of paroxysmal AFib may resolve your problem.
Various medications, including beta blockers, blood thinners, calcium channel blockers, and others could be helpful. Sometimes surgery is the most appropriate treatment.
If you have questions about AFib in general, or about your specific situation, we encourage you to schedule an appointment at Maryland Cardiology Associates. Call our office or book a visit online today. We’re always happy to answer your questions and provide guidance to help improve your health.