Can Atrial Fibrillation Explain My Constant Fatigue?

November 24, 2022

man rubbing his eyes showing signs of fatigue in front of his laptop

Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is an impactful condition and one that is unique in every patient. Especially in the early stage, or paroxysmal form of Afib, symptoms, severity, and frequency can differ from patient to patient. While the signs and symptoms of Afib are well known, some, like chronic fatigue, are difficult to pinpoint since so many other conditions can cause the same symptoms.

What Causes Afib Fatigue

Essentially, two mechanisms associated with Afib can make and keep you fatigued. First is a simple fact that your heart is a muscle, and just like any other muscle in the body, overexertion can cause fatigue. Think that the average heartbeat is around 80 beats per minute. With Afib, you may be experiencing upwards of two, three, or even four times that pace. It stands to reason that the heart muscle would be overworked. You might ask, “Wouldn’t Afib be very obvious at that heart rate?” This arrhythmia would be debilitating for many, and most patients would end up at their doctor’s office or hospital in short order. However, there is a phenomenon known as silent Afib, where there are no outward symptoms. This is when chronic fatigue is tough to diagnose.

Afib can also cause inefficient blood flow around the body, another common cause of fatigue. Every function in your body requires oxygen. Blood is pumped out of the heart from the right ventricle to the lungs, where it is oxygenated, then back to the left atrium and ventricle of the heart and out to the rest of the body. If this process isn’t working efficiently, as is often the case with an arrhythmia like Afib, this oxygen-rich blood may not reach the extremities with the frequency and efficiency needed to keep everything working in good order. This compromised blood flow can cause, you guessed it, fatigue.

Ultimately, the diagnosis will revolve around a candid discussion with your primary care physician and Afib specialist/electrophysiologist. We work with you to rule out other causes of fatigue, including poor sleep, acid reflux, sleep apnea, chronic inflammation or infection, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, medications, or other potential issues. If we suspect that Afib may have a role, or if we can positively diagnose an arrhythmia, treatment through lifestyle change, medication, and procedural intervention like cardiac catheter ablation often resolve the fatigue relatively soon after treatment begins.

Concurrent Fatigue-Causing Disorders

Of course, Afib may not be the only cause of your fatigue. Other issues often create similar symptoms. However, Afib is a chronic and progressive disease that should be treated in its early stages. Delaying arrhythmia treatment can lead to more frequent and intense episodes, increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and long-term heart failure. Eventually, nontreatment can lead to long-standing persistent or even permanent Afib, where treatment options diminish in effectiveness.

Next steps

If you have evaluated your lifestyle and spoken to your primary care physician about the potential causes of fatigue with no luck or definitive diagnosis, we encourage you to visit an electrophysiologist like Dr. Banker to understand if Afib may be the cause. Rest assured that the technology and techniques available to treat Afib have never been safer or more effective, and well-qualified patients can see improvements shortly after treatment begins. In the meantime, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Banker to learn more.