Atrial Fibrillation

When your heart is beating normally, you may never even notice it. The two small chambers of the heart, called the atria, fill with blood and then contract to push the blood into the larger bottom chambers, called the ventricles.

But in some cases, the heart begins to beat irregularly — sometimes due to a condition called atrial fibrillation or AFib. AFib occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly. When this happens, the atria cannot effectively push blood into the ventricles, disrupting blood flow to the entire body.

In many instances, people with AFib may experience no symptoms at all. But others may also experience a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosis

In many cases, AFib is diagnosed during a routine medical exam, when your physician discovers an arrhythmia, or a disruption of the normal heart rhythms. In other instances, it may be diagnosed in an emergency situation.

To diagnose AFib, your physician will carefully review any symptoms you have, perform a physical exam, feel your pulse, listen to your heart and order an electrocardiogram or other tests.

If you are diagnosed with AFib, multiple treatment options are available. Your physician may refer you to an AFib specialist or electrophysiologist for treatment.

How Atrial Fibrillation Is Treated

The type of AFib treatment recommended for your condition will depend on its underlying cause. Possibilities include birth defects, coronary artery disease, hypertension, heart valve disease, a prior heart attack or heart surgery or other conditions.

Treatment will be used to restore normal heart rhythms and reduce the risk of blood clots developing.

Depending on your needs, treatment may include medications to correct your heartbeat or prevent clots, cardioversion to reset the heart’s rhythm, ablation to destroy abnormal electrical pathways in the heart or surgery to disrupt abnormal electrical signals to the heart. To keep the heart in proper rhythm after a procedure, a pacemaker may be implanted.

If you’re experiencing symptoms potentially related to atrial fibrillation, an AFib specialist can provide a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Sources: American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus