What is atrial fibrillation?
(say "AY-tree-uhl fih-bruh-LAY-shun") is the most common type of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
heart beats in a strong, steady rhythm. In atrial fibrillation, a problem with
the heart's electrical system causes the two upper parts of the heart, the atria, to quiver,
The quivering upsets the normal rhythm between the atria and the
lower parts of the heart, the ventricles. And the ventricles may beat fast and without a regular rhythm.
This is dangerous
because if the heartbeat isn't strong and steady, blood can
collect, or pool, in the atria. And pooled blood is more likely to form clots. Clots can travel to the brain, block blood flow, and cause a stroke.
Interactive Tool: What Is Your Risk for a Stroke if You Have Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation can also lead to
What causes atrial fibrillation?
damage or strain the heart commonly cause atrial fibrillation. These
Other possible causes include:
- Other medical problems, such as heart failure, lung
pneumonia, or a high thyroid level.
- Heavy alcohol use. This includes having more than 3 drinks a day over
many years as well as drinking a large amount
of alcohol at one time (binge drinking).
- Use of stimulants. These include caffeine,
nicotine, medicines such as decongestants, and illegal drugs such as
- Use of some prescription medicines, such as albuterol or
Sometimes doctors can't find the cause. Doctors call this lone atrial fibrillation.
What are the symptoms?
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
Feeling out of breath.
- Feeling weak and tired.
- Feeling like the heart is fluttering, racing, or pounding (palpitations).
- Feeling like the heart
is beating unevenly.
- Having chest pain (angina).
Sometimes atrial fibrillation doesn't cause obvious symptoms.
If you have symptoms, see your doctor. Finding and treating atrial fibrillation right away
can help you avoid serious problems.
How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?
The doctor will ask questions about your past health, do a physical exam, and order tests.
The best way to find out if you have atrial fibrillation is to have an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG is a test that checks for problems with the heart's electrical activity.
You might also have lab tests and an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram can show how well your heart is pumping and whether your heart valves are damaged.