Atrial fibrillation (A-Fib)

A-Fib is an abnormal heart rhythm that involves the atria (the two upper chambers of the heart). Instead of making a strong beat, the atria quiver or fibrillate. This is a problem because it causes the heartbeat to become irregular. Sometimes, your heartbeat with A-Fib goes too fast. Blood does not flow through the heart as well as it should, which may cause it to form clots. These blood clots may leave the heart and enter the brain, where they can cause a stroke.

Risk Factors for A-Fib

Some risk factors for A-Fib are:

  • Heart disease

  • Lung disease

  • Heart surgery

  • Diabetes

  • Sleep apnea

  • Older age

  • High blood pressure

  • Birth or congenital conditions

  • Caffeine

  • Alcohol

  • Cigarettes

  • Street drugs

  • Some medicines

  • Unhealthy weight

How to Reduce the Risk of A-Fib

  • Some ways to help reduce the risk of A-Fib:

  • Lower your blood pressure

  • Lower your cholesterol

  • Lose excess weight

  • Eat a heart healthy diet

  • Stop smoking

  • Stop taking street drugs

  • Exercise regularly

  • Do not drink alcohol

  • Use your sleep apnea mask or get checked for sleep apnea

Symptoms of A-Fib

Some people have no symptoms at all and do not know that they have A-Fib until it is found by a doctor. Others may feel:

  • Lightheaded, faint, weak

  • Short of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Feel like your heart is beating very fast

Diagnosing A-Fib

A-Fib is diagnosed through an electrocardiogram (EKG). An EKG uses wires and patches attached to your chest to graph of the heart’s electrical activity. It is an easy, non-invasive test.

Treatment

The treatment goals for A-Fib may include:

  • Keeping the heart out of A-Fib and in a regular rhythm (known as rhythm control).

  • Keeping the heart rate in a normal range of 60-100 beats per minute (known as rate control).

  • Preventing blood clots and stroke.

  • Preventing other heart problems.

There are many ways to treat A-Fib. Your doctor will help decide what is right for you. Treatments could include:

  • Medicine: We may prescribe certain medicines to help slow down your heart rate.

  • Blood thinners: We may prescribe blood thinners to prevent a clot from forming in the heart.

  • Cardioversion: We would use this to put your heart back into a normal rhythm. We give you an electric shock on the outside of your chest to “reset” your heartbeat. You will be
    sedated so you will not be aware of the shock.

  • Ablation: Your doctor may want to try an ablation. This involves sending “heat” or “freeze” energy to the part of the heart that causes the A-Fib. This will change the electrical pattern of the heart tissue and help the heart return to a normal rhythm. You will have this done in a hospital. You will be sedated so you will not feel it.

Living with A-Fib

You should know the signs and symptoms of a stroke when you have A-Fib. You have a higher risk of stroke when you have A-Fib. Take your medicines to control your A-fib and to prevent stroke.

Signs of Stroke

If someone shows any of these signs or symptoms of a stroke, call 911:

  • Face drooping

  • Arm weakness

  • Trouble speaking