What is atrial fibrillation?
(say "A-tree-uhl fih-bruh-LAY-shun") is an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
that starts in the upper parts (atria) of the heart. Atrial fibrillation is a common type of arrhythmia in people older than age
Atrial fibrillation is the most common
type of persistent irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
heart beats in a strong, steady rhythm. In atrial fibrillation, a problem with
the heart’s electrical system causes the atria to quiver,
or fibrillate. The quivering upsets the normal rhythm between the atria and the
lower parts (ventricles) of the heart. The lower parts may beat fast and
without a regular rhythm.
Atrial fibrillation is dangerous
because it greatly increases the risk of
stroke. If the heart doesn't beat strongly, blood can
collect, or pool, in the atria. Pooled blood is more likely to form clots. If
the heart pumps a clot into the bloodstream, the clot can travel to the brain
and block blood flow, causing a stroke. Atrial fibrillation can also lead to
What causes atrial fibrillation?
damage or strain the heart commonly cause atrial fibrillation. These
Atrial fibrillation may also be caused by:
- Other medical problems, such as lung
pneumonia, or a high thyroid level (hyperthyroidism).
- Heavy alcohol use. Having more than 3 drinks a day over
many years can cause long-lasting atrial fibrillation. Drinking a large amount
of alcohol at one time (binge drinking) may also cause a spell (episode) of
- 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 that the heart is fluttering, racing, or pounding (palpitations).
- A feeling that the heart
is beating unevenly.
Chest pain (angina).
Atrial fibrillation is common, especially in older
adults, and it may not cause obvious symptoms. If you have any of the symptoms
listed, see your doctor. Finding and treating atrial fibrillation right away
can help you avoid serious problems.
How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?
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.
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.
How is it treated?