What Does AFib Feel Like?
There are anywhere between three and six million people who have atrial fibrillation in the U.S. alone — and the number of cases increase every year. What’s most disturbing, however, is that more and more young people are getting it.
AFib is typically an “elderly” person’s disease, but it’s not uncommon for people in their 30s or 40s to get it.
I was diagnosed with AFib when I was just 32 years old. The other day a 22-year-old woman contacted me on my blog to say she was just diagnosed with it.
Atrial fibrillation doesn’t discriminate. While it’s true you’re more likely to get it in your later years, you’re not completely immune to it if you’re young.
This is especially true if AFib runs in your family. My dad was diagnosed with it at a relatively early age (50) and surprise surprise, I was diagnosed with it at an ever earlier age!
What Do the Symptoms Feel Like?
With any disease, the first question that comes to mind is what are the symptoms? Most people are symptomatic, so when they go into AFib, they know something isn’t right.
When I had my first episode, I thought I was having a heart attack. Like the flip of a switch, my heart suddenly took off. My heart was racing and pounding out of my chest as if I had just completed a marathon.
This pounding and racing feeling is one of the most common symptoms of AFib. Another way it’s often described is a large fish flopping in your chest.
Like a fish does if you pull it out of the water and put it on the ground, it flips and flops irregularly — and often times violently as it struggles being out of water. That’s exactly what your heart feels like it’s doing when you’re in AFib — violent, irregular flip-flopping.
When people ask me how will they know if they are in AFib, I always respond with this simple reply: “Trust me. You’ll know!”
The first thing people often assume is that they are having a heart attack. It’s that dramatic of an experience for most people.
When I go into AFib, for example, not only do I know it immediately, but it completely renders me useless. I can’t do anything but sit in a chair or lie down until I convert to normal sinus rhythm (NSR).
Not everyone has such a dramatic experience when they go into AFib. In fact, a lot of people can function normally despite it.
Sure they’ll have symptoms, but they won’t be so severe that it knocks them off their feet. These symptoms can include any of the following:
- Light headedness
- Unusual fatigue (they get winded doing the simplest of things)
- A “butterfly” sensation in their chest
- Palpitations (faint or those heart-pounding palpitations)
While most people will experience some degree of the symptoms highlighted above, not everyone does. A small percentage of people have what is called silent AFib. They are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t have any symptoms, or they at least don’t notice them.
For people like me who are highly symptomatic, it’s hard to believe that someone can be in AFib and not even know it but it does happen.
The silent AFibber is usually diagnosed with atrial fibrillation when they go to the doctor for an annual physical or for some other health issue. They’ll be shocked when their doctor diagnoses them with AFib because they didn’t feel anything!
How Do I Know If I Have AFib?
Most people will know when they go into AFib because the experience will be pretty dramatic or they’ll have some degree of the symptoms mentioned earlier. The only way to officially diagnose it, however, is to have an ECG at the doctor’s office or by wearing a heart monitor for a period of time prescribed by your doctor.
There are also consumer-grade heart monitors you can buy that don’t require a prescription. These devices will allow you to take a quick ECG anywhere you are. Two of the most popular right now are the Kardia monitor by AliveCor and the HeartCheck Pen by CardioComm Solutions, Inc.
I like both devices but my favorite right now is the Kardia monitor because it was created specifically to help diagnose AFib. It has a filter that will tell you instantly if you are possibly in AFib. If it detects that you might possibly be in AFib, you can email the ECG to your doctor or to AliveCor’s ECG analysis service for confirmation.
Everyone is unique, so their experience with AFib will likely be unique as well. Some people like me are rendered completely useless when they go into AFib, while others either don’t even feel it or they have symptoms but they can function normally.
Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum, if you have AFib in your family or you’ve experienced any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, you should talk to your doctor.
And if you’re one of those types that doesn’t like to go to the doctor unless absolutely necessary, then I encourage you to at least invest in one of the consumer-grade heart monitors.
Atrial fibrillation itself won’t kill you, but the side effects of it can — so don’t ignore it!