Atrial Fibrilation

My name’s Shirley – you may know me as Rhu – and I have Atrial Fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation (also called AF or a-fib) an abnormal rhythm of the heart. It presents as the fast and chaotic beating of the atrial chambers, causing an irregular heartbeat.

In a-fib, part of the heart (the upper chamber, called the atria) does not work correctly because of abnormal electrical activity. This means that blood is not forcefully moved out of these chambers. The blood that remains in the atria becomes “sluggish” or static, which allows blood clots to form raising the risk of stroke. Atrial fibrillation can be intermittent and stop on its own (paroxysmal), continue for several days and require treatment (persistent), or be present all the time (permanent).

The exact cause of AF is not known.

Some people have no symptoms at all while others have a variety of symptoms.

Mild symptoms include:

  • Unpleasant palpitations or irregularity of the heart beat
  • Mild chest discomfort (sensation of tightness) or pain
  • A sense of the heart racing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Mild shortness of breath and fatigue that limit the ability to exercise

More severe symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath with exertion
  • Fainting, or near fainting, due to a reduction in blood flow to the brain
  • Confusion, due to a reduction in blood supply to the brain
  • Chest discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss, inability to recall simple events, words and phrases (including names of objects, people’s names, names of places)

People with AF have an increased risk of stroke as a result of blood clots that can form in the heart. A stroke can occur if a blood clot forms in the left atrium because of sluggish blood flow and a piece of the clot (called an embolus) breaks off. The embolus enters the blood circulation and can block a small blood vessel. If this happens in the brain, a stroke can occur. The embolus may also travel to the eye, kidneys, spine, or important arteries of the arms or legs.


AF has had a huge impact on my life, especially in the last 18 months.

For me, nothing is more upsetting than those first moments when I realise and recognise the bang-bang-bang  – like wheel rolling very, very fast,  that starts in my chest and vibrates through my whole body.

Sleep is really elusive for me once I am in AF. Usually, I just try to relax and stay calm. An episode can last from a few hours, to a few days, non stop. My longest episode has been 3 weeks of continuous AF. It nearly sent me to the funny farm. When it goes away, it just stops – like someone turning off a tap. The feeling that comes with this is the best feeling in the world. It'[s like my whole body just feels light and relaxed and normal sinus rhythm prevails once more.

There is no medical evidence of what can trigger and AF episode.

Some people say theirs is set off by  physical overexertion. Others say caffeine, alcohol, and ice-cold drinks can trigger an event. Less common triggers are simple illnesses, such as having a cold, or a viral infection, dehydration, coughing and burping, certain over the counter drugs, laughing.

My personal triggers are alcohol, especially wine, which  really upsets me as I am such a wine lover. Pork can set me off. So can emotional or work-related stress. Lying on my the left side once an episode starts magnifies it. I’ve met people who are set off by a heavy meal, caffeine, MSG, aspartame, and chocolate.

More and more, I have had to turn down or skip out social engagements. I worry that people think I am rude. But honestly – when I am in AF I am no good to anybody. You simply don’t want me around.

You want to know why I don’t drink sometimes? This is why.

You want to know why I may pull out of your Tupperware party? This is why.

not to mention that driving in AF is not a good idea.

This year, I will be having surgery.  Hopefully this will fix my broken heart.

This post is to help you, as my friends, understand what I am dealing with and why I am having surgery. It’s no big deal, I’ll be in and out before you know it.  I’ll let you know when it happens.

Then you can send me wine. And chocolate.

I have a lot of lost time to make up.

18 thoughts on “Atrial Fibrilation

  1. My cousin has this. In his case, it was genetic. A pacemaker has allowed him to go back to a relatively normal life for which we are all grateful. I hope that whatever your surgery entails, it allows you to go back to living without fear.

  2. Rhu, thanks so much for this post. I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I don’t blog about it, but it has similar social ramifications for me. i value your openness and honesty.

  3. Thanks for sharing this and being so direct about it. Your honesty concerning things like this is probably one of the many reasons I enjoy reading your blog (In fact, the other night I told my husband about the time your husband disappeared).

  4. Shirley it takes guts to open your heart and voice what is going on. Im not sure when your surgery is but I wish you all the luck in the world. Big hugs xxxxxxxxx

  5. My mother has this. Developed late in life and on the mild side. But her “funny turns” were far more frequent last year and there were many ambulance rides for her. Docs tweaked her medication last episode and she seems better now. She has worked out a couple of triggers to avoid which also helps. Surgery is an option but not yet.

    I hope the surgery goes well for you.

    Kay xx

  6. Something else we have in common! AF is NOT a fun thing is it? Severe pain, or vomiting attacks caused by an iffy gall bladder also triggers my attacks

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