Atrial fibrillation or flutter is a common type of abnormal heartbeat. The heart rhythm is fast and irregular in this condition.
Auricular fibrillation; A-fib
When working well, the four chambers of the heart contract (squeeze) in an organized way.
The electrical signal that tells your heart to contract begins in an area called the sinoatrial node (also called the sinus node or SA node). These signals help your heart pump the right amount of blood for your body’s needs.
In atrial fibrillation, the electrical impulse of the heart is not regular.
- Parts of the heart cannot contract in an organized pattern.
- As a result, the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
In atrial flutter, the ventricles (lower heart chambers) may beat very rapidly, but in a regular pattern.
These problems can affect both men and women. They become more common with increasing age.
Common causes of atrial fibrillation include:
Alcohol use (especially binge drinking)
Heart attack or heart bypass surgery
Heart failureor an enlarged heart
Heart valve disease (most often the mitral valve)
Overactive thyroid gland (
Sick sinus syndrome
You may not be aware that your heart is not beating in a normal pattern.
Symptoms may start or stop suddenly. This is because atrial fibrillation may stop or start on its own.
Symptoms may include:
Pulsethat feels rapid, racing, pounding, fluttering, irregular, or too slow
- Sensation of feeling the heart beat (
palpitations) Confusion Dizziness, light-headedness Fainting Fatigue
- Loss of ability to exercise
- Shortness of breath
Exams and Tests
The health care provider may hear a fast heartbeat while listening to your heart with a stethoscope. Your pulse may feel fast, uneven, or both.
The normal heart rate is 60 – 100. In atrial fibrillation/flutter the heart rate may be 100 – 175. Blood pressure may be normal or low.
If your abnormal heart rhythm comes and goes, you may need to wear a special monitor to diagnose the problem. The monitor records the heart’s rhythms over a period of time.
- Event monitor
Holter monitor(24-hour test)
- Implanted loop recorder
Tests to find heart disease may include:
- Echocardiogram (ultrasound imaging of the heart)
- Tests to examine the blood supply of the heart muscle
Tests to study the heart’s electrical system
Cardioversion treatment is used to get the heart back into a normal rhythm right away. There are two options for treatment:
- Electric shocks to your heart
- Drugs given through vein
These treatments may be done as an emergency, or planned ahead of time.
Daily medicines taken by mouth are used to:
- Slow the irregular heartbeat. These drugs may include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and digoxin.
- Prevent atrial fibrillation from coming back. These drugs work well in many people, but they can have serious side effects. Atrial fibrillation returns in many people even while taking these medicines.
These drugs increase the chance of bleeding, so not everyone can use them. Antiplatelet drugs such as
A procedure called
All people with atrial fibrillation will need to learn how to
Treatment can often control this disorder. Many people with atrial fibrillation do very well.
Atrial fibrillation tends to return and get worse. It may come back even with treatment.
Clots that break off and travel to the brain can cause a
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of atrial fibrillation or flutter.
Talk to your health care provider about steps to treat conditions that cause atrial fibrillation/flutter. Avoid binge drinking.
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