Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation

What is it?

Atrial fibrillation is an arrhythmia which occurs when electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) begin in multiple sites in a chaotic pattern and are sent rapidly to the heart's lower chambers, causing them to contract irregularly and quickly.

During atrial fibrillation, the atria do not pump blood as effectively as they normally should. If the heart doesn’t beat strongly, blood can collect in the atria which is more likely to cause clots. If these clots break up or break off, and the heart pumps a clot into the blood stream and block a smaller artery or travel to the brain and block blood flow. If this happens in the brain, it can cause a stroke. Atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Atrial fibrillation can be caused by conditions that damage or strain the heart. The conditions include:

They can also be caused by other conditions, such as:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung disease
  • Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Prescription medicines such as albuterol and theophylline
  • Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine
  • Alcohol abuse and drugs

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation depend on how rapidly the heart is beating. If it remains below 120 beats a minute, there may be no symptoms other than the irregular or increased pulse. If the rate is higher, there may be heart palpitations or discomfort felt in the chest.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Weak or tired
  • Dizzy, lightheaded or faint
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations (A feeling that the heart is fluttering, racing, or pounding)

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Diagnostic testing and procedures are the first step in establishing a treatment strategy. A doctor may order tests or perform the following procedures:

Several procedures can be useful in correcting atrial fibrillation:

In other cases, no treatment or only medicine is needed. Often, certain lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy lifestyle, lowering stress levels, avoiding caffeine, over-the-counter pain medicines or avoiding alcohol, are enough to stop the atrial fibrillation.

St. Luke's Heart & Vascular