Atrial fibrillation has a few overlapping symptoms with panic attacks, but they're completely different conditions. Just like the symtpom of being sweaty can be caused by fever, exercise, hot weather or anxiety, there are a few symptoms that can be a result of either atrial fibrillation or panic attacks. These include an increased heart rate, palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, and feeling faint or lightheaded. All of these symtpoms can also be experienced when someone is having a panic attack. The difference is that atrial fibrillation is a physical problem with the heart's normal rhythm, whereas a panic attack is a period of high fear or anxiety.
In Panic Disorder, people develop a fear of having panic attacks because they're worried that they're the beginnings of something terrible, such as a heart attack or going crazy. When symptoms of anxiety are experienced, that fear kicks in, resulting in increased anxiety, until the person is in a state of panic. In your case, a physical problem has caused an abnormal heart rhythm, which you have correctly interpreted as a threat of some kind - in other words, you felt anxious.
It can be difficult to tease out whether the symptoms of anxiety have come first, or if an irregular heart beat has triggered anxiety, which in turn can cause further cardiac symptoms.
Thanks for writing in, I think it's a good reminder for those of us who treat people for panic attacks that we need to be sure that people are screened by their doctors for physical conditions that might be responsible.
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