Atrial Fibrillation - Complications

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What are the complications of atrial fibrillation (AFib)?

Heart failure

If the heart is unable to pump an adequate amount of blood to the body, as in some people with AFib, the body begins to compensate by retaining fluid. This can lead to a condition called heart failure. Heart failure results in the accumulation of fluid in the lower legs (edema) and the lungs (pulmonary edema). Pulmonary edema makes breathing more difficult and reduces the ability of the lung to add oxygen to and remove carbon dioxide from the blood. The levels of oxygen in the blood can drop, and the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood can increase, a complication called respiratory failure. This is a life-threatening complication. In patients with underlying heart disease, the development of AFib may result in up to a 25% decrease in the pumping function of the heart.


Quivering of the atria in atrial fibrillation causes blood inside the atria to stagnate. Stagnant blood tends to form blood clots along the walls of the atria. Sometimes, these blood clots dislodge, pass through the ventricles, and lodge in the brain, lungs, and other parts of the body. This process is called embolization. One common complication of AFib is a blood clot that travels to the brain and causes the sudden onset of one-sided paralysis of the extremities and/or the facial muscles (an embolic stroke). A blood clot that travels to the lungs can cause injury to the lung tissues (pulmonary infarction), and symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath. When blood clots travel to the body's extremities, cold hands, feet, or legs may occur suddenly because of the lack of blood.

Return to Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

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Comment from: Jim, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: August 12

I first had atrial fibrillation in November 2007. The doctor told me it was caused by a leaky mitral valve. In October 2008 I had surgery to repair the valve but the atrial fibrillation persisted. I have am on Metoprolol, Flecinide, Asprin, Fish oil and recently on Rythomol which made me very dizzy. I have had 2 ablations which helped for a while but the atrial fibrillation returns every few months.

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Comment from: snish76, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: October 08

I first experienced a full feeling in my stomach and found it hard to lay down flat to sleep because I could not breathe so I went to the emergency room and was told I had atrial fibrillation. I had been having this problem for about 2 to 3 weeks and since then I have been placed on medications to treat it. They put me on a beta-blocker that slowed my heart down too slow, making me feel dizzy and very fatigued. I stopped taking it but continued taking diltiazem 30 mgs 4 times a day but I only take it once with my other medication, that includes furosemide 40 mg, 2 times a day, and spironolactone 25 mg 1 time daily. My stomach does seem to be upset most of the time so I take omeprazole 20 mgs daily. I notice a shortness of breath when I try to do anything physical and have been off work for about 11 months now. I am disabled, gaining weight. I have supraventricular tachycardia which causes the muscles in the upper part of the heart to flutter and not pump blood like it should. I have scheduled a doctor appointment to be referred to a cardiologist who specializes in ablation.

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