Atrial fibrillation (AFib) can lead to a variety of potentially serious complications. While there isn’t a cure for AFib, treatment can successfully manage symptoms.

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib for short, is the most common type of arrhythmia. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute estimates that more than 2 million people in the United States have AFib.

In AFib, the top chambers of the heart beat fast and irregularly. This can lead to heart palpitations, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

While there’s no known cure for AFib, a variety of treatments and lifestyle changes can help you manage your symptoms.

According to the American Heart Association, AFib can sometimes go away on its own, although it’s rare. This is called spontaneous remission.

Paroxysmal AFib is a type of AFib where symptoms come and go. People with paroxysmal AFib experience symptoms that resolve on their own within 7 days. The frequency of these episodes can be different for every person.

Paroxysmal AFib can eventually progress to persistent AFib, which is where symptoms last longer than 7 days. In this type of AFib, heart rhythm typically only returns to normal after treatment.

A 2015 review estimates that 10–20% of people with paroxysmal AFib progress to persistent AFib within 1 year. It notes that the rate of progression increases as more time passes. Known risk factors for progression include things like:

Persistent AFib can progress to longer-lasting types of AFib, including permanent AFib. As such, it’s vital to take steps to manage AFib, regardless of what type you have.

Even if your AFib is resolved, you may still be at a higher risk of AFib-related complications. For example, a 2018 study found that people with resolved AFib still had a higher risk of transient ischemic attack or stroke than those without AFib.

Recurrences of atrial fibrillation

Ablation is an elective procedure that can treat AFib by destroying the abnormal heart tissue that is triggering the condition. Compared to antiarrhythmic drugs, it’s associated with improved outcomes and quality of life in people with AFib.

A 2021 review notes that at 12–18 months, ablation eliminates AFib in 60–70% of people with paroxysmal AFib. While ablation can help AFib go away, recurrences are not uncommon.

About 20–40% of people experience a recurrence of their AFib after ablation. A shorter time from AFib diagnosis to ablation is associated with a lower risk of recurrence.

Potential complications of atrial fibrillation

AFib is associated with various potentially serious complications. One of these is stroke. The effects of AFib can increase the risk of blood clot formation in the heart. If a blood clot dislodges and travels from your heart to your brain, an ischemic stroke can occur.

Having AFib increases the risk of ischemic stroke by five times, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Other potential complications of AFib include:

  • blood clots that travel to other parts of your body, such as your lungs, kidneys, or intestines
  • heart failure
  • cognitive impairment and dementia
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While there is no cure for AFib, treatment can help manage your symptoms and reduce your risk of complications. Treatment of AFib focuses on normalizing heart rhythm and rate and reducing the chance of blood clots.

Medications are often part of AFib treatment. Examples include:

Heart-healthy lifestyle changes are also an important aspect of AFib treatment, as they can help to improve your outlook. Some lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend if you’re diagnosed with AFib include:

If using medications and lifestyle changes doesn’t help manage your AFib, your doctor may recommend that you have a procedure or surgery. These include:

  • electrical cardioversion, which uses low-energy shocks to help restore your heart rhythm
  • catheter ablation, which destroys the area of heart tissue that’s causing the arrhythmia
  • implanting a pacemaker if your heart rate isn’t manageable with medications

Generally speaking, the outlook for AFib can depend on several factors. These include things like the type of AFib you have as well as your age and overall health.

People with AFib have a higher chance of poor health outcomes compared to the general population. This includes an increased risk of death as well as things like heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease.

A 2020 study notes that years of life lost to AFib at 10 years has improved over time. However, it also points out that people with AFib still lose about 2 years of life compared to those without the condition.

Overall, getting prompt treatment for AFib is vital for improving outcomes and preventing complications. For example, a 2022 study found that early rhythm control in people with AFib lowered the chance of poor cardiovascular outcomes, although this effect was reduced in people ages 75 or older.

There’s no cure for AFib, but treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent complications. While spontaneous remission can happen, this is rare. Most people with AFib will continue to experience symptoms either occasionally or chronically.

Paroxysmal AFib, in which AFib symptoms come and go on their own, can develop into more persistent or even permanent types of AFib. This makes prompt treatment vital to improve outlook and prevent complications.

The outlook for AFib depends on several factors, such as the type of AFib you have, your age, and your overall health. If you’ve been recently diagnosed with AFib, talk with your doctor about your individual outlook and treatment recommendations.