What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

An arrhythmia is defined as trouble with the rate or rhythm of a person’s heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common form of arrhythmia. It occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, contract rapidly and irregularly, preventing proper pumping of blood into the two lower chambers of the heart, called the ventricles. A normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. An atrial fibrillation heart rate is often between 100 to 175 beats per minute. There are several types of atrial fibrillation; temporary types of AFib may become permanent over time.

Atrial fibrillation is caused by damage to the heart’s electrical system. The damage is often a side effect of high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, sleep apnea, an overactive thyroid or congenital heart defects.

The risk of atrial fibrillation becomes greater as a person ages. It’s more common in men than in women. Someone with atrial fibrillation may experience chest pain, palpitations, difficulty breathing, fatigue, weakness, confusion or dizziness. Or he or she may notice no symptoms at all. Occurrences of atrial fibrillation can be chronic or may come and go.

The most serious complications of atrial fibrillation include:
• Heart failure
• Stroke

Depending on the severity of a person’s atrial fibrillation, treatment may include adapting a healthy diet, losing weight, limiting caffeine and/or alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, taking medication or undergoing medical procedures or surgery. Note that the lifestyle actions used to treat atrial fibrillation are the exact things that can help prevent the condition.

The Heart Center at Denton Regional Medical Center performs advanced cardiac procedures using the latest techniques and state-of-the-art equipment. To find out more about the services we offer, please visit us online. To find a doctor, use our online Find a Physician service.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
National Institutes of Health

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