Understanding is the key to finding answers.
Atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AF or AFib) is a common condition in which the upper chambers of the heart, or atria, fibrillate. This means that they beat very fast and irregularly so the heart can’t pump blood effectively to the rest of the body.
AFib is a serious medical condition that can increase the risk of stroke by five times1 and over time, could lead to heart failure.
A small pulse of electric current spreads quickly through the heart to make the muscle contract.
In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers quiver faster than the rest of the heart.
However, some people have no symptoms and discover that they have AFib at a doctor’s appointment. Even for people who have no symptoms, AFib is a serious medical condition that can lead to complications.
Some risk factors that contribute to AFib can be controlled or modified, like managing high blood pressure and reducing alcohol consumption. Controllable risk factors include:
NON-CONTROLLABLE RISK FACTORS
If you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), or your doctor suspects that you do, heart monitoring may be necessary to determine how often and how long it occurs.
Sometimes episodes of AFib are infrequent and require longer-term monitoring and in some cases, your doctor may also want to monitor how effective different treatments are at keeping your AFib under control. Types of heart monitoring vary in terms of how long they can be used and how information is captured:
These talking points will help you remember important information related to your symptoms to share with your healthcare team.
If it is determined that you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), the treatment that’s best for you will depend upon your symptoms, the underlying cause of the AFib and how long you’ve had the condition. Generally, treatments for AFib focus on resetting or controlling the heart rhythm and preventing blood clots.
Making certain lifestyle changes may improve your overall heart health. Your healthcare team may recommend that you:
Medication may be prescribed to control your heart rate or rhythm. In addition, anticoagulation (blood-thinning) drugs are aimed at preventing clots from forming that can lead to a stroke.
A procedure called cardioversion may be used to reset an abnormal heart rhythm back to normal. Cardioversion is performed either with medications called anti-arrhythmics or with an electric shock delivered to your heart when you are sedated.
If medications or cardioversion don’t work or if you have side effects, catheter ablation is another option. During catheter ablation, either radiofrequency energy or cryotherapy is directed through a catheter inserted in an artery, toward abnormal electrical pathways in the heart tissue. Either method scars the tissue and may normalize the erratic electrical signals to correct the arrhythmia.
A medical device like a pacemaker or an ICD can detect and treat AFib early and suppress the onset of AFib.
2014; 370(26):2478-2486.American Heart Association. Wolf PA, Abbott RD, Kannel WB. Atrial fibrillation as an independent risk factor for stroke: The Framingham Study. Stroke. August 1991;22(8):983-988. Accessed October 2013.