Guide: Atrial Fibrillation Classification System

Guide: Atrial Fibrillation Classification System

Although atrial fibrillation isn’t the most common type of cardiac arrhythmias, it can definitely put the patient at risk of some serious consequences. However, there’s a difference in the risk posed since not all atrial fibrillation is the same.

Therefore, over the years, specialists have come up with a special classification system to categorize the types of atrial fibrillation and the degree of risk posed by them. As a result, in 2014, the American Heart Association together with the Heart Rhythm Society and the American College of Cardiology established a standardized classification system.

Just read on to find out the current classification system of atrial fibrillation:

The Standardized Atrial Fibrillation Classification System

Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation

Paroxysmal is the medical term used for “intermittent” and when used for atrial fibrillation it means that the arrhythmia happens in episodes and lasts not more than seven days. In general, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation lasts from a couple of minutes to hours. These episodes can be either pretty rare or frequent.

In some patients, the episodes of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation are quite brief without any symptoms and are completely subclinical which means that the patient cannot know whether or not they are having such episodes. Under these circumstances, the condition is usually diagnosed during regular cardiac monitoring.

However, subclinical atrial fibrillation is very important because if left undiscovered and untreated it can lead to stroke. Fortunately, there are many products on the market like the AliveCor or the Apple Watch which are designed to detect cardiac arrhythmias. And, by discovering paroxysmal atrial fibrillation on time, preventative treatment may be taken to reduce the risk of complications and stroke.

Persistent Atrial Fibrillation

The next category is persistent atrial fibrillation which is characterized by episodes that are more than seven days in duration. In other words, when compared to paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, persistent atrial fibrillation lasts longer.

What’s more, patients with persistent atrial fibrillation usually have to undergo a medical intervention so as to restore a normal heart rhythm. In general, the aim of cardiac specialists when treating patients with persistent arrhythmia is to eliminate atrial fibrillation and restore normal cardiac rhythm.

Furthermore, these patients may also experience episodes of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation although they have a couple of persistent arrhythmia episodes. Still, they will be diagnosed with persistent atrial fibrillation even though such episodes aren’t that common.

Long-Standing Persistent Atrial Fibrillation

The third category of atrial fibrillation is called long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation because the episodes may last longer than a year. In these patients, atrial fibrillation is considered as the new baseline cardiac arrhythmia. Unfortunately, the chances of restoring normal heart rhythm in long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation patients are quite low, although there’s a possibility of trying.

Permanent Atrial Fibrillation

In fact, there’s not much difference between permanent and long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation. The only difference is that the patient and the cardiac specialist have decided to stop attempting to restore normal cardiac rhythm and agreed on trying different treatment options. Briefly put, they’ve concluded that it is a permanent condition that cannot be eliminated but only controlled in moderation.

Valvular and Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation

Here’s yet another classification of atrial fibrillation that focuses on whether or not atrial fibrillation is linked to valvular heart disease. However, the valvular and non-valvular classification is only considered when determining the anticoagulant therapy to reduce the risk of stroke because those who suffer from valvular atrial fibrillation always need this therapy whereas those with non-valvular atrial fibrillation don’t always need it.