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Overview of atrial fibrillation

Kapil Kumar, MD
Section Editor
Peter J Zimetbaum, MD
Deputy Editor
Gordon M Saperia, MD, FACC


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia that has the following electrocardiographic characteristics (see "The electrocardiogram in atrial fibrillation", section on 'Common findings'):

The RR intervals follow no repetitive pattern. They have been labeled as “irregularly irregular.”

While electrical activity suggestive of P waves is seen in some leads, there are no distinct P waves. Thus, even when an atrial cycle length (the interval between two atrial activations or the P-P interval) can be defined, it is not regular and often less than 200 milliseconds (translating to an atrial rate greater than 300 beats per minute).

AF can have adverse consequences related to a reduction in cardiac output and to atrial and atrial appendage thrombus formation [1-4]. In addition, affected patients may be at increased risk for mortality. (See 'Long-term outcome' below.)

AF is more prevalent in men and with increasing age (figure 1) [5]. (See "Epidemiology of and risk factors for atrial fibrillation", section on 'Epidemiology'.)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Sep 21, 2016.
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