Q: What is atrial fibrillation?
A: A heart condition that affects an estimated 2 million Americans, atrial fibrillation (AF) is rapid, irregular electrical activity in the heart's upper chambers.   

Q: What happens during atrial fibrillation?
A: Normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat controlled by electric signals that are produced by cells within the heart. In atrial fibrillation, part of the heart beats irregularly and too fast, causing your body to not receive the proper amount of oxygen. 

Q: Who normally suffers from atrial fibrillation?
A: AF can occur in otherwise healthy people with no known heart disease, and is most often detected during stress or exercise. AF also shows up in people who've had coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, heart valve disease, an inflamed heart muscle or lining, or who recently have had heart surgery.  People with atherosclerosis (arteries lined with fatty deposits) and angina (chest pain) sometimes have it, and it also has been linked to congenital heart defects.  

AF sometimes appears in people with chronic lung disease, pulmonary blood clots, emphysema and asthma. Other factors that affect risk for AF are thyroid disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, excessive alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking-some of which are modifiable.

Q: Can atrial fibrillation cause other health problems?
A: AF can lead to other heart rhythm problems, chronic fatigue, heart failure and stroke. If AF is left untreated, the overactive heart muscle can weaken and stretch, making it harder for the heart's upper chambers to contract properly. Not only does this increase your risk of stroke, it also can lead to congestive heart failure. 

Q: What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
A: See list below:

  • Irregular heart beat,
  • Heart palpitation or rapid thumping inside the chest,
  • Dizziness, sweating and chest pain or pressure,
  • Shortness of breath, and
  • Tiring more easily when exercising.

Q: How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?
A: AF most commonly is diagnosed with the help of an electrocardiogram, which allows the physician to see if your heart's electric signals are normal.

Q: How is atrial fibrillation treated?
A: Once diagnosed, AF traditionally is treated by medication to prevent blood clots. In some cases, surgery may be required or electric shock is used to change the beat of your heart. There is no known cure for AF, therefore the goals of treatment are to prevent blood clots from forming, control your heart rate within a relatively normal range, and restore a normal heart rhythm, if possible. 

Visit the Atrial Fibrillation and Arrhythmia Center.

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