Atrial Fibrillation Quick Overview
- Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) often, but not always, resulting in a fast heart beat (greater than 100 bpm) at rest.
- Causes of AFib are numerous; for example:
- overactive thyroid,
- alcohol use,
- Pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lungs)
- heart valve disease,
- coronary artery disease, and
- many others that result in an abnormal electrical impulse that makes the atrial contractions of the heart irregular, disorganized and commonly, very rapid.
- Some people have no symptoms of atrial fibrillation; however, those that
do have symptoms that are numerous. Some include:
- palpitations (a sensation of rapid and irregular heart beat),
- dizziness or lightheadedness,
- weak feeling,
- shortness of breath,
- chest pain and/or angina,
- Diagnosis of AFib is begun with the patient's history and physical exam; simply listening to the heart beat is often enough for a preliminary diagnosis. Usually an electrocardiogram is done to help distinguish atrial fibrillation from other arrhythmias.
- Treatment for AFib is variable and depends upon the patient's condition; three goals are usually attempted; first is medication - cardiac rate control (slowing down the ventricular rate if it is fast), second is to restore and maintain normal cardiac rhythm, and finally, to prevent clot formation (a common complication of untreated atrial fibrillation).
- Alternatively, some patients benefit from cardioversion (electrical current is used to shock the heart back to sinus rhythm), catheter ablation (a technique that threads catheter into the hearts atrium and with attachments that deliver radiofrequency energy) or cryoablation (freezing) to disable or kill cells responsible for generating the abnormal signals.
- Infrequently, a pacemaker needs to be placed; others may require maze surgery that surgically interrupts the cardiac signaling mechanism between the atria and ventricles.
- Complications of AFib are serious. The most dangerous complication of
atrial fibrillation is a stroke. Other serious complications can be heart failure and different arrhythmias.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/26/2015
Must Read Articles Related to Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial flutter is an abnormality in the beating of the heart. Such abnormalities, whether in rhythm of heartbeat or speed of heartbeat, are known as arrhythmias...learn more >>
Blood is supposed to clot to help repair a blood vessel that is injured. Clots or thrombi become a problem when they form inappropriately. There are a variety o...learn more >>
Congestive Heart Failure
The heart is a pump that works together with the lungs. It pumps blood in two ways. Congestive heart failure is a serious condition, but it can be managed.learn more >>
Patient Comments & Reviews
The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Atrial Fibrillation (AFib):