Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is a common disorder of the rhythm of the heart and affects up to 3 million American adults.
In a healthy heart, the heart’s chambers beat regularly and rhythmically, commonly referred to as lub-dub, lub-dub. A-fib is caused by faulty electrical signals in the upper chambers of the heart. The heart beats irregularly and often too quickly, getting out of sync with the two lower chambers. If the lower chambers also respond to the same faulty signals, they beat too fast and chaotically. This can lead the patient to have symptoms including palpitations, lightheadedness, syncope, breathing difficulty and chest discomfort. A-fib episodes can come and go or become persistent and require medical treatment.
Common causes include:
- Coronary disease
- Alcohol consumption
- Rheumatic heart disease
- Sleep apnea
Complications of A-fib include stroke, heart failure, and other heart diseases.
Possible treatments include medications, procedures to reset the heart’s rhythm, surgery, and preventive measures.
Medical management includes:
- Drugs to control the heart’s rhythm and/or rate and prevent future episodes of A-fib
- Blood thinners to prevent and reduce the risk of blood clots that can cause stroke
Electrical cardioversion is a medical procedure that may reset the heart’s rhythm. A brief electrical shock is delivered to momentarily stop the heart and shock it into resetting to a normal rhythm.
With proper medical and lifestyle management, patients with A-fib can lead a normal, healthy life with reduced risk of stroke and heart failure.