Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an erratic and often fast beating of the upper part of the heart. This part of the heart pushes blood into the lower section of the heart so it can pump blood out to the body. AFib can decrease the amount of blood that is pumped out to the body.
AFib may be:
Occasional (paroxysmal)—AFib starts and stops over short periods usually less than 48 hours
Persistent—constant and lasts more than 7 days
Longstanding persistent—continues for more than a year
The beating of the heart is started and controlled by electrical signals. These signals start from an area of the heart called the SA node. The signals then move through the heart in an organized way. Problems with the SA node or other areas of the heart can disrupt how the heart contracts. Irregular signals may also start in other areas of the heart.
Afib may be caused by one or more of the following:
Problem with how the heart developed or damage to the heart
Metabolic disorders—how your body processes food
Endocrine disorders—abnormal amounts of hormone in your body
Certain medicine or other medical treatment
Sometimes the exact cause is not known.
AFib is more common in men and people over 55 years old.
AFib may not cause any symptoms. Symptoms that do occur may range from mild to severe.
Fast beating in the upper part of the heart may cause:
Irregular or rapid pulse or heart beat
Racing feeling in the chest
A pounding feeling in the chest
AFib that is decreasing the amount of blood pumped out to the body may cause:
Lightheadedness, which can lead to fainting
Pain or pressure in the chest
Shortness of breath
Fatigue or weakness
Hard time exercising
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect a problem after listening to the heart or hearing about symptoms. Tests to confirm may include:
AFib allows blood to pool in the upper part of the heart. Blood clots can form in this pool, travel out of the heart, and cause a stroke. Medicine will help to stop these clots from forming. Some medicine can also increase the risk of severe bleeding. Care team will track changes in the blood to keep a balance between preventing blood clots and bleeding risks.
A procedure called
left atrial appendage closure
(LAAC) may be considered if medicine is not an option. This procedure seals off a small area of the upper heart where clots tend to form.
Certain habits can trigger an episode of AFib or make it worse. To decrease the chance of making the AFib worse:
Reduce or eliminate caffeine
Eliminate or reduce alcohol intake
It is not always possible to prevent AFib. Talk to your doctor about your overall heart health. A healthy heart may reduce the risk of some AFib.
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Atrial fibrillation. CardioSmart website. Available at: https://www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/Atrial-Fibrillation. Accessed November 28, 2020.
Electrical cardioversion. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/electrical-cardioversion. Accessed November 28, 2020.
Explore atrial fibrillation. National Heart,Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/af. Accessed November 28, 2020.
Left atrial appendage and closure. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/left-atrial-appendage-closure. Accessed November 28, 2020.
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7/1/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115288/Atrial-fibrillation: Qureshi WT, O'Neal WT, Khodneva Y, et al. Association between opioid use and atrial fibrillation: The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(6):1058-1060.
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