What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, or afib, is an abnormal heart rhythm where the heart beats erratically. Atrial fibrillation starts from the top chambers of the heart, the left atrium and right atrium. During periods of atrial fibrillation, the left and right atria have chaotic electrical activity instead of normal coordinated contraction. Because of this, the two top chambers of the heart are quivering instead of beating. The lack of pumping function in the left and right atria causes reduced blood flow in these chambers. This reduced blood flow may cause blood clots to form in the left atrium and this may increase the risk of a stroke. 

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

The symptoms of atrial fibrillation may be palpitations, skipped heartbeats, tiredness, shortness of breath, light headedness, chest discomfort, irregular heartbeats or rapid heartbeats. Certain individuals have no symptoms and may be unaware that they have atrial fibrillation until they are diagnosed at a physician visit. Atrial fibrillation can be diagnosed with an ECG or other forms of electrocardiographic monitoring.

Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation

Treatment for atrial fibrillation focuses on preventing strokes. A physician may start treatment to reduce the risk for stroke if it is needed. The treatment to reduce the risk for stroke may involve using blood thinning medications. Sometimes a device may be inserted into the left atrium to block the left atrial appendage where blood clots are most likely to form.

Treatment to control or cure the atrial fibrillation may involve medications or may involve cardiac procedures called atrial fibrillation ablations. Cardioversion is a treatment where electric shocks are delivered to the heart, under anesthesia, to convert atrial fibrillation to a normal rhythm. While medications may be successful in treating atrial fibrillation in up to half of the patients treated, ablations may offer a lasting cure for atrial fibrillation. An electrophysiologist will help to work out an individualized treatment plan for atrial fibrillation and will often perform an atrial fibrillation ablation if that is determined to be the best treatment option.

atrial fibrillation

To learn more about atrial fibrillation, please visit the educational websites below.