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What is atrial fibrillation?

Jan 1, 2016

Dr. Kishlay Anand is medical director of the cardiac electrophysiology lab at Abrazo Arrowhead Campus, explains about atrial fibrillation.   

The heart is a pump with four chambers: two small upper chambers called the atria and two larger, more powerful pumping chambers called ventricles.  The normal heart beat ranges between 60-100 beats per minute (BPM), with upper chamber and lower chamber working synchronously.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. It is a very fast, uncontrolled rhythm caused when the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) quiver instead of beating in an organized manner. During AF, the atrial rate can jump to between 350 and 600 bpm. The lower chambers of the heart, the main pumping chambers or ventricles, do not beat this fast; however, they often beat much higher than a normal heart rate.

What are AF symptoms?

The symptoms of AF may include palpitations, irregular heartbeat, and shortness of breath, chest discomfort and dizziness. Many patients experience feelings of weakness, caused by the heart’s diminished pumping ability. People with underlying heart disease are generally less able to tolerate AF. Once AF becomes symptomatic, it becomes more serious as it indicates that the heart is failing to pump adequate amounts of blood to the body.

What are AF risks?

AF, by itself is not life threatening however AF may increase your risk of stroke, heart failure and decrease quality of life.

How is AF treated?

There are a number of treatment options for AF, and there is no single way to treat AF that is right for everybody. Every patient is unique, as there are many causes of AF. You should discuss your treatment options with your doctor; however, there are a few standard approaches of which you should be aware.

The first line of treatment usually involves medications, but there are other treatments that might be appropriate, including cardioversion, ablation, surgery and, implantation of a pacemaker with ablation procedures to regulate the heart rate.

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