The ‘Minor’ Heart Symptom You Should Never Ignore

A skipped heartbeat, the feeling of fish flopping around in your chest, a racing heart rate; these are the physical feelings of atrial fibrillation—the most common type of heart rhythm disorder. The symptoms are different for different people, but experts agree that ignoring these warning signs can be hazardous to your health.

“When someone experiences their first episode of atrial fibrillation they may not think too much of it,” says Anne Gillis, M.D., president of the Heart Rhythm Society – an international organization of heart rhythm specialists. “It feels quite different from having a heart attack, so many people pass it off as nothing serious.”

But, just because the disorder lacks the chest-clutching drama of a coronary, doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.

A growing concern

Over three million Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation—a type of irregular heartbeat that occurs when the upper chambers of a person’s heart (called, the atria) quiver out of rhythm with the lower chambers.

People can develop an abnormal heart rhythm at any age, but the risk for atrial fibrillation increases as an individual gets older. With millions of baby boomers beginning to enter their twilight years, the number of people affected by the disorder is expected to double.

In the heart of a healthy individual, the atria typically beat anywhere between 60 and 80 times every minute. By contrast, a person with atrial fibrillation may experience as many as 400 irregular spasms in the same time frame.

Not usually deadly on its own, research has linked atrial fibrillation, with an increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and dementia.

When compared to the general population, people suffering from atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to have a stroke.

The American Heart Association estimates that 15 percent of strokes nationwide are caused by untreated atrial fibrillation.

Gillis also cautions that, over the long term, consistently erratic beats can fatigue heart muscles and hasten heart failure.

Continue reading to learn what symptoms may signal an impending attack

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The ‘Minor’ Heart Symptom You Should Never Ignore originally appeared on

Know what to look for and when to speak up

The warning signs of atrial fibrillation can range from a minor fluttering feeling in the chest, to a full-on fainting episode.

According to Gillis, some people first notice a problem during physical activity. They can’t handle a flight of stairs without losing their breath, or they aren’t able to make it through their usual 40-minute spin class without having to stop.

The tricky thing about atrial fibrillation is that it can be hard to explain. “People often have a difficult time describing their symptoms. They know that something’s not quite right, they don’t feel well, but they can’t define it,” says Gillis.

Especially when it comes to your heart, it’s important to resist the urge to shrug off a seemingly minor symptom.

“Caregivers (and women, in particular) tend to underestimate the symptoms related to heart disease,” Gillis says, “They focus so much on the senior that the end up trivializing their own health.”

Because the symptoms of atrial fibrillation can be varied and vague, Gillis urges those with concerning symptoms to speak up and address their concerns with their doctor.

Getting diagnosed is the first step towards gaining access to the variety of treatments, both surgical and non-surgical (prescription medications), available to help manage irregular heart rhythms and their potential complications.

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By Anne-Marie Botek, Editor


Jennifer K.
Jennifer K4 years ago

It seems like this is what I had, due to some medication. I went off the medication, and it immediately went away. I wonder if there is any danger of it coming back, now. I haven't seen the doc yet.

Beverly Hill
Beverly Hill4 years ago

I recently had a dna test ran and I am at a higher risk for developing atrial fibrillation. Now that I know I can keep a closer eye on my heart health and keep living healthy to improve my chances of not becoming a statistic.

Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Zarafonetis4 years ago


Patricia H.
Patricia H5 years ago

thanks for sharing

Yulan Lawson
Yulan Lawson5 years ago


Loo Samantha
Loo sam5 years ago


Kay Caldwell

Afib runs in my family. If you have symptoms and your dr. shrugs it off find another dr.

Kathy K.
Kathy K5 years ago


tiffany t.
tiffany t5 years ago

major problem is the blood that is pooling could cause clots, do not ignore, age doesn't matter it is how well we take care of ourselves, exercise, healthy foods, I have met people twice my age that can run circles around me. Most are vegetarians, never smoked, drank, and exercised regularly, plus they have awesome genetics.

Mary Beth M.
MaryBeth M5 years ago

To anyone who claims that they have any of these signs and symptoms, have been checked out by their one doctor and told they were OK, you really need to take responsibility for your own health. Go back and demand answers. Dizziness may not indicate a cardiac problem-maybe it's anemia or hypothryoidism, or something else that could be determined on a variety of blood tests. Heart rate abnormalities should always be investigated with more than an in office EKG. Ask for a monitor you wear at home for a period of time that records your heart rate/EKG for 24 hours over a period of days. You record your activity when you send in the results. To assume that all doctors are excellent and have covered all bases is naive. If you are not getting answers or are not being taken seriously, find a new doctor!! It is your health and your life.