New-onset atrial fibrillation causes an irregular heartbeat in a person who has not experienced it before. Treatment may involve lifestyle changes, such as managing stress, limiting alcohol, and eating a balanced diet.

Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is a kind of irregular heart rhythm, which doctors may also call arrhythmia. It arises when the heart’s upper chambers, or atria, quiver instead of contracting properly.

This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, and risk factors of new-onset A-fib.

It will also explain how doctors diagnose and treat new-onset A-fib and detail the outlook for those who have just developed this condition.

A nurse taking a blood pressure reading from a person with new-onset atrial fibrillation.-2Share on Pinterest
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A-fib can be asymptomatic. However, the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests the most common symptom of A-fib is a fluttering sensation in the chest.

Other symptoms include:

In some cases, A-fib can cause pain or pressure in the chest. Anyone with this symptom must seek immediate medical attention, as it could indicate a heart attack.

A-fib usually arises from changes to the heart’s tissue or electrical signaling.

Within the heart, many important electrical signals originate from the sinoatrial node. This node is in the heart’s right chamber, and it sends signals to the atria, causing them to contract.

Abnormal electrical signals disrupt this process in people with A-fib. This means the electrical signal does not come from the sinoatrial node and the atria do not contract as they should.

Changes to the heart tissue can also make it harder for the atria to contract properly. These include:

  • fibrosis — thickening or scarring of heart tissue
  • inflammation
  • stretching or thinning of the heart walls
  • reduced blood flow
  • accumulation of protein, cells, or minerals

Risk factors for new-onset A-fib are things that indicate a higher-than-average chance of developing this condition. According to a 2023 study, these include:

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, doctors will start with a physical examination and analysis of a person’s medical history.

Doctors can use electrocardiograms (EKGs/ECGs) to record the electrical activity of a person’s heart. They may also be able to collect similar data from pacemakers or implanted defibrillators. This test may be sufficient to diagnose A-fib.

In some cases, further testing is necessary. This may include the following tests:

  • Echocardiography: This form of ultrasound allows doctors to analyze a person’s heart valves, heart chamber sizes, and heart pumping functionality. This can help doctors diagnose the cause of A-fib and spot complications, such as blood clots.
  • Event monitor: This is a wearable device that continuously monitors the heart’s rhythm for a period of several days to a month.
  • Loop recorder: This is an implantable device that monitors the heart’s rhythm for up to several years.

Treatment for new-onset A-fib aims to restore a more regular heart rhythm and reduce the risk of complications. In the earlier stages of this condition, doctors may focus more on lifestyle changes, such as:

Doctors may also consider prescribing certain medications, although this may not be necessary for new-onset A-fib. These medications include:

Additional treatments include undergoing electrical cardioversion or, in some cases, catheter ablation. For some people, pacemakers may be necessary.

In some cases, A-fib will resolve by itself. However, when this happens, doctors may continue to monitor a person.

A-fib is a risk factor for life threatening conditions, such as heart attacks and strokes. However, treatment can help people with A-fib lead regular lives and reduce the risk of complications.

A 2020 study suggests that 10 years after first diagnosis, individuals with this condition have an average life expectancy that is around 2 years lower than that of similar people without A-fib.

Anyone with symptoms of A-fib should contact a doctor. This is especially important for individuals belonging to groups who are at risk of A-fib. Prompt treatment can prevent and postpone the worst possible outcomes of this condition.

If a person feels chest pain and tightness, they should seek urgent medical attention. This may indicate a heart attack, which can be life threatening.

Below are some common questions about new-onset A-fib.

Should a person rest after an A-fib episode?

If anyone has an A-fib episode, they should let their doctor know. This information helps doctors to track this condition, as well as its possible complications.

If an A-fib episode comes with chest pain or pressure, the person should seek immediate medical attention.

Does new-onset A-fib require hospitalization?

Not necessarily. However, if anyone thinks that they have experienced new-onset A-fib, they must speak with their doctor. New-onset A-fib requires testing and treatment.

New-onset A-fib is when the heart’s upper chambers quiver instead of contracting properly for the first time. Symptoms can include a fluttering sensation in the chest, fatigue, and dizziness.

Changes in the electrical activity and tissues of the heart can cause this condition. Older age, obesity, and smoking can make it more likely.

The main diagnostic tool for new-onset A-fib is an EKG. Treatment involves medications such as blood thinners or anti-arrhythmics, as well as procedures such as electrical cardioversion, ablation, or a pacemaker implant.