What is Atrial fibrillation?

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments.

I was diagnosed with Atrial fibrillation (AF) about 3 months ago, although I have been experiencing symptoms for a few years now. As I often suffer from palpitations, and I’m used to new and often quite scary symptoms appearing, I wrongly ignored my heart problems. When you have a chronic illness like ME/CFS, which throws a myriad of obscure symptoms at you, it’s easy just to assume new symptoms are part of it.

Also, when you are told for years that you are a hypochondriac and ‘it’s all in your head’ you are very reluctant to ask for help from medical professionals. I’ve been told most my life that my physical symptoms are caused by my anxiety, and you get to a point where you believe this. So, rather than seek help immediately, I waited until these new symptoms became unbearable before asking for help. But it’s not worth the risk, please don’t make the same mistake as me.

Even though both my parents also have AF, before my diagnosis I knew very little about the condition. I have since researched a lot about it, so I thought I would write a post about this heart condition. What are the symptoms? How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed? and what are the possible treatments?

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an abnormal heart rhythm that happens when electrical impulses fire off from different places in the atria (the top chambers of the heart) in a disorganised way. This causes the atria to twitch, and is felt as an irregular heartbeat or pulse. Atrial fibrillation is also a major cause of stroke.

In AF, the heart rate is irregular and can sometimes be very fast. In some cases, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats a minute.

This can cause problems including dizziness, shortness of breath and tiredness. You may be aware of noticeable heart palpitations, where your heart feels like it’s pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly, often for a few seconds or, in some cases, a few minutes.   

What are the symptoms?
The most obvious symptom of AF is heart palpitations. As well as an irregular heartbeat, your heart may also beat very fast.

Other symptoms you may experience include:

  • tiredness and being less able to exercise
  • breathlessness
  • feeling faint or lightheaded
  • chest pain
  • The way the heart beats in atrial fibrillation reduces the heart’s performance and efficiency. This can lead to low blood pressure (hypotension) and heart failure.

Sometimes AF does not cause any symptoms and a person who has it is completely unaware that their heart rate is irregular.

What it feels like to experience the symptoms of atrial fibrillation.

I personally experience all of the above symptoms. My heart thumps so hard in my chest I can not only feel it, I can hear it. I feel like I’m constantly in motion. When I’m lying in bed I feel like I’m on a water bed. My chest gets so tight, I have to force myself to breathe. And the dizziness gets so bad I struggle to sit up or walk to the bathroom.

Now, I don’t know how much of this is caused by ME/CFS and how much is atrial fibrillation, but hopefully with treatment for my AF these symptoms will improve.

Because the symptoms mimic anxiety and are similar to a lot of the symptoms I experience with ME/CFS, it was hard for me to pinpoint them as new symptoms triggered by heart problems. This is one of the reasons I hesitated contacting my GP about them.

The combination of these symptoms causes a very “odd” sensation. You know when you are on a roller coaster and you go down a big dip or do a loop, you feel like your stomach drops, your heart goes into your mouth and it takes your breath away – it feels like that all the time. I constantly feel uneasy, it mimics anxiety, that feeling of impending doom in the pit of your stomach.

What causes atrial fibrillation?

The exact cause of atrial fibrillation is unknown, but it’s more common with age and affects certain groups of people more than others.

Atrial fibrillation is common in people with other heart conditions. It’s also associated with other medical conditions, including:

  • An overactive thyroid gland.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Asthma.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Lung cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Pulmonary embolism

I have no idea what caused my AF as I don’t fit into any of the above categories. I believe the symptoms started after a neck injury a few years ago, but I don’t know this for sure. However, the fact that both my parents have AF puts me at greater risk.

What can trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation?

Although I don’t know the cause, I am very aware of what aggravates my symptoms and triggers an episode of atrial fibrillation.

My Triggers:

  • Stress.
  • Caffeine.
  • Hot and humid weather.

Other common triggers include:

  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, particularly binge drinking.
  • Being overweight.
  • Drinking lots of caffeine, such as tea, coffee or energy drinks.
  • Taking illegal drugs, particularly amphetamines or cocaine
  • Smoking

How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?

I personally had a particularly bad episode which led to a diagnosis. The heart can often go in and out of AF and patients can be aware of these changes. I believe my heart has been doing this for years, but it had always corrected the rhythm by itself. This time, however, this didn’t happen. The longer this episode lasted, the more rapid my heart rate became, and the more severe the other symptoms, like dizziness, palpitations, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, became. After speaking to my GP an ambulance was called. The paramedics carried out an ECG which detected atrial fibrillation. My ECG also showed another abnormality, so I was admitted to hospital.

Monitor your pulse:

The first step in diagnosing AF is for you to monitor your own heart rate. This can be done by firmly place the index and middle finger of your right hand on your left wrist, at the base of the thumb (between the wrist and the tendon attached to the thumb) count the number of beats for 60 seconds. Also note whether you heart beat feels irregular.

I personally have a fitness tracker which monitors my heart rate. This was extremely useful in diagnosing my atrial fibrillation, it also alerted me to the fact something was wrong in addition to my normal symptoms.

Also, monitor any other symptoms you may be experiencing. It’s a good idea to keep a diary of symptoms along with your heart rate which you can present to your GP.

When to see your GP.

If your heart rate is consistently above 100 (particularly if you’re experiencing other symptoms of atrial fibrillation) visit your GP. Also if you are experiencing chest pain, see your GP immediately.

If atrial fibrillation is suspected, your GP may give you an electrocardiogram (ECG) and refer you to a heart specialist (cardiologist) for further tests. An ECG is a test that records your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity and it’s the most common way of diagnosing AF. It’s usually carried out in a hospital or GP surgery, takes about 5 minutes, and is painless.

Additional tests.

Once you are referred to a cardiologist further tests may be carried out which may include:

  • an echocardiogram – an ultrasound scan of the heart, which can help identify any other heart-related problems; it’s used to assess the structure and function of the heart and valves.
  • a chest X-ray – which can help identify any lung problems that may be causing atrial fibrillation.
  • blood tests – which can highlight anaemia, problems with kidney function, or an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).

I have had all of the above and I can confirm they are straightforward and (mostly) painless

What treatments are available?

The first step is to try to find if there is a cause of the atrial fibrillation. If a cause can be identified, you may only need treatment for this. For example, if you have an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), medication to treat it may also cure atrial fibrillation.

If no underlying cause can be found, the treatment options are:

  • medicines to reduce the risk of a stroke
  • medicines to control atrial fibrillation
  • cardioversion (electric shock treatment)
  • catheter ablation
  • having a pacemaker fitted.

A variety of medicines are available to restore normal heart rhythm and control the rate of the heartbeat. Also, due to the way the heart beats in atrial fibrillation means there’s a risk of blood clots forming in the heart chambers. If these enter the bloodstream, they can cause a stroke. Therefore an anticoagulant (blood thinner) is often prescribed.

In my case, a cause was not found. Since my hospital stay 3 months ago, I have been on a blood thinner and a beta blocker. But to be honest, I haven’t noticed much improvement in my AF symptoms, although my heart rate is not quite so rapid.

Cardioversion and other procedures.

My cardiologist has recommended I have a procedure called, cardioversion. I have been on the waiting list for this for 3 months now.

Cardioversion involves giving the heart a controlled electric shock to try to restore a normal rhythm. Cardioversion is usually carried out in hospital so that the heart can be carefully monitored.

Other options available if medication and cardioversion are not effective, are:

  • Catheter ablation. A procedure that very carefully destroys the diseased area of your heart and interrupts abnormal electrical circuits.
  • Pacemaker. A small battery-operated device that’s implanted in your chest, just below your collarbone. It’s usually used to stop your heart beating too slowly, but in atrial fibrillation it may be used to help your heart beat regularly.

Wish me luck!

I’m hoping that after the cardioversion, if it’s successful, I will notice a dramatic decrease in my symptoms, and improvement in my health. I have no idea how much of my fatigue, palpitations and dizziness are actually caused by the AF, and not ME/CFS as I originally thought. Unfortunately success is not guaranteed. My Dad has been through two cardioversion procedure and neither were successful. But I live in hope.

My cardioversion procedure is booked for the 12th of October – wish me luck!

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Missing Millions – London 2018

Every year an event called Millions Missing takes place in Countries across the world to raise awareness of ME and to help make it visible. People with severe ME are often forgotten because we are hidden away in darkened rooms, too sick to leave the house. At the core of the demonstration is a collection of shoes. Each pair of shoes displayed represents one person who is ‘Missing’ from the world due to this debilitating illness.

I wasn’t well enough to attend an event myself but my sister and her husband went to the London Millions Missing event to represent me, and I am so thankful for this. My sister collected photos and stories from ME sufferers at the event. With their permission I am going to introduce a few of them to you.

Firstly, in the main photo, is my wonderful sister Rozy.

This is Lucy Grimwade. She wants proper research into ME. She has had ME since she was 12 years old. She misses school, friends, dancing with her sister and being normal.

Lucy wants more recognition from government and healthcare. #MillionsMissing London.

Jess wants to be believed.

This is Jenny.

Jessica wants more funding for research. I’m sure you all know the courageous Jessica who featured in the Jennifer Brea film Unrest Thank you for giving us a voice.

Grace wants to go to school and for people to not stare at her. Luke and Sarah want their daughter to be able to have friends over and have social interactions.

From the left Toby, Jacky, Emma, Lynn. Are supporters of people who live with ME. Lynn wants more government funding for research.

Vanessa and her mum Geraldine. Vanessa wants to be believed. Geraldine wants more funding and research so people can get better.

Jane and her husband Lawrence. Jane wants an end to GET and CBT. Lawrence wants to be able to do things together with his wife.

Carolyn wants to let people know about network M.E. self help (network MESH West London) to get support from like minded people and a newsletter.

Amanda and her partner Talay want more funding for medical research and practical support and improved disability benefits and a cultural change so that disabled people are not viewed as an economic burden but as individuals who can make a valuable contribution to society. And better education for health practitioners.

Ruth and her husband Ian want Biomedical research and they want it now.

From the left Tom, Liz and Chris are family members of someone who lives with ME. Liz wants to be heard and believed by doctors and school. And understanding.

Lea wants the medical profession to take it seriously and recognition that people die from ME.

This is Apolonia.

Steph wants more funding for research.

James wants to be able to work. There needs to be more knowledge and flexibility in the workplace. And recognition from government that it is a real illness.

Cato wants more research and funding for research, and access to the right treatment.

Ollie wants more funding for research.

Thom and Rebecca don’t want to be silenced anymore.

This is Karen. Ill nearly 28 years. “I want a life back and I don’t want see anymore suicides or early deaths”

And lastly, a short video from the event. A big thank you to my sister and everyone else who attended all the #MillionsMissing events around the globe.

For more personal stories, reviews, news, inspirational quotes and in-depth discussion, please head over to my Facebook page.


Missing Millions – Global Virtual Meetup

For those of you, like myself, who are not well enough to attend one of the #millionsmissing events, there is a Global Virtual Meet up happening.


#ajourneythroughthefog #chronicillness #mecfs #MEaction #spoonies#chronicpain #meawarenessmonth #myalgicE #pwme


For more personal stories, reviews, news, inspirational quotes and in-depth discussion, please head over to my Facebook page.


Guest Post : ‎Sefik Villasante‎ – My Story

My Story of overcoming the dark and desperate times is one that I hope can show others that there is a way out to the other side ! It was Sept 2016 and after 12 years of striving and seriously hard work and sacrifice I achieved a promotion within a huge U.S Multinational Company . I was ecstatic nothing was going to stop me I had the position the pay the title and the plaudits that I had richly deserved . Along with my family wife and children we could all share in my success!

9 months later I was a wreck ! 9 months of 17 / 18 hr days 5 days a week a culture that was far from supportive , toxic in nature , a work force hell bent on undermining you and your position had left me broken .

One of my main strengths was my confidence my ability to present and interact with the workforce and my passion and belief in the company and what it could bring to further my carrier and growth of the business .

I was left hiding on the ware house, wanting to hide away , keep quiet not be noticed and physically unable to even open up and email or log into my p.c . Every moment of my working day was miserable it was consuming me the fear of work the heaviness of failing the 10 cups of coffee a day to try and pep me up , the utter hate of the alarm going off at 04.30am and that drive into London it was desperate time.

I had noticed a definite down shift in my mood 2 months before I went to the G.P explained my situation and yep 150mg of Sertraline were was the answer . No No No pill could get me through this the work , culture and 18 hour days were relentless !!!

So driving home 9.00pm at night on a Friday I said I cant do this anymore H.R don’t care , manager doesn’t care , the company doesn’t care well then I will show them !!! Maybe this will make you listen and take notice !!!

I attempted to drive my car into the central reservation of the A40 , it made perfect sense I was exhausted I would blame the company show the world how I had been broken I was crying out for someone to take this seriously !!!! Something made me pull away at the last second .Was it luck , an angel , and hunch , or the last bit of reasoning I had in me that said you don’t have to do this ?? I pulled into the hard shoulder and had a cry and a talk to myself .

How could I tell my wife , my kids , work , my friends , family that I had failed !! Yes I had failed , failed failed failed failed !!! Everyone else but me opinion mattered but my own !!

Fast forward and after I sent an Email to my Boss explaining I couldn’t do this anymore , I felt a weight had been lifted . I myself had acknowledged I was in a bad desperate place and needed help .Never has watching a U Tube clip resonated so much . “The Black Dog Syndrome” Perfect in every way .

18 months of counciling , Self Compassion Groups , Mindfullness , Self Confidence Groups , CBT , Richmond Fellowship service , and a 6 month spell with a Physchatrist and of course understanding that medication is not taboo its a requirement for some .

I was under the impression a month away from work was all that I needed and I will me back to normal . I dosent work like that it takes time a lot of time and work and changing your values and your old way of thinking .

What really is important to you , what do you value , is money the answer to everything . What I’ve understood and this is key is that Money dosent bring you happiness it brings you choices .Success dosent make you Happy , Happy makes you Success !

Yes its been tough very tough for 18months I didn’t tell anyone I hid away pretended I was working from home, working nights on the lap top I was living a secret life . But as soon as I let my story out and told the world the support I had was amazing. It was like I was given a 2nd chance and new direction and new me ! Ive changed direction , had the confidence to leave a carrier of 14years start all over again at the age of 42 see my first sports day , xmas play go to a parents evening do the school run , tuck my children into bed sit around the dinner t able the list goes on and on .

Never live your fears don’t say you cant go on there is a way out i’ve done it . Suffering from chronic depression and anxiety is not taboo its reality and its a sign you’ve tried so hard, so hard and taken you to the edge you havn’t been a grazer you’ve been a decent individual !!

Help is out there in may forms and through many amazing people and groups , reach out to those closest to you and never give in and go to that dark place that you would be better of not being hear ,

You are Amazing You are Beautiful You are a Parent Brother Sister Aunt Uncle Son Daughter , You can achieve all you want never loose sight of that !!