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Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is the most prevalent form of cardiac arrhythmia

If you have atrial fibrillation, you want to do everything you can to live a normal, healthy life. Our highly-skilled heart and vascular experts are dedicated to care for complications related to an irregular heartbeat. You can feel confident placing your heart in our hands.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as a-fib, is a type of cardiac arrhythmia – an irregular beating of the heart. In atrial fibrillation, the two small upper chambers of the heart quiver rather than beat efficiently, resulting in an abnormal heart rhythm.

Get the facts
  • Atrial fibrillation is the most prevalent form of cardiac arrhythmia, occurring in over 2.2 million people in the United States.
  • There is a 15-percent prevalence of an irregular heartbeat in those over age 70.
  • Stroke occurs four to five times more often with atrial fibrillation.
  • Atrial fibrillation may lead to heart failure with fast heart rates, irregular rhythm, and loss of atrial contribution to cardiac output.

Often, atrial fibrillation causes no symptoms at all. However, when they do occur, symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Paleness
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart tremors
  • Gradual heart tremors

Our team may use several different methods to diagnose your arrhythmia. These methods include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – A standard electrocardiogram helps doctors analyze the electrical currents of the heart. By placing electrodes at specific locations on your body, we can obtain a graphical representation of the electrical activity in your heart.
  • Holter monitor – A Holter monitor is a transportable device you wear that records your heart rate throughout a 24-hour period. Three electrodes are placed on your chest and are connected to a small, portable recorder. In the procedure known as event monitoring, you may choose to wear the device and monitor your heart rate only when symptoms are present.
  • Electrophysiology studies (EPS) – In EPS, a long thin tube called a catheter is inserted through your groin or neck and guided to your heart. This enables physicians to find the site of the arrhythmia's origin within your heart tissue and determine how to best treat it.
  • Tilt-table exam – A noninvasive test used to monitor your heart rate and blood pressure as you lie flat on a table. Pressure is applied on the area of your nervous system that maintains your heart rate and blood pressure, enabling doctors to see how your heart responds to stress.
Treatment options

We offer leading-edge technology and treatments to help you live with atrial fibrillation. Treatment options include:

  • Medications – Medications may be used to return your heart to its normal rhythm or to prevent blood clots and reduce your risk of stroke.
  • Electrical cardioversion – The doctor applies an electrical shock to your chest wall to regulate your heartbeat.
  • Catheter ablation – A hollow tube is inserted into your heart through a vessel in the groin or arm. Once the site of the arrhythmia is found, it can be destroyed.
  • Pacemaker – A pacemaker is placed under the skin to treat an irregular heart rate. The artificial pacemaker can send electrical signals to stimulate your heart to beat if your heart's natural pacemaker is not functioning properly.
  • Maze procedure – During the maze procedure, surgeons create a number of incisions in your heart's atrium to block erratic electrical impulses that cause atrial fibrillation.
  • Lifestyle changes – Often, lifestyle changes can treat heart arrhythmia. Your physician may tell you to eliminate substances such as caffeine or alcohol that could cause or contribute to the problem.

Generally, anything that disturbs the normal electrical impulses in the heart can trigger a cardiac arrhythmia. For atrial fibrillation, major risk factors include:

  • Being over age 70
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Thyrotoxicosis, which is an excess of thyroid hormones

Although some causes of atrial fibrillation are not preventable, reducing your chance of developing certain arrhythmias might be as easy as making lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Eating a well-balanced, low-fat diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Not smoking

Contact the Novant Health location nearest you to learn more about services for atrial fibrillation.

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