Atrial Fibrillation

Season 14
Episode 1409

Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib.

What happens during AFib?

Normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly (quiver) instead of beating effectively to move blood into the ventricles.

If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, a stroke results. About 15–20 percent of people who have strokes have this heart arrhythmia. This clot risk is why patients with this condition are put on blood thinners.

Even though untreated atrial fibrillation doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and is associated with a 5-fold increased risk for stroke, many patients are unaware that AFib is a serious condition.

The most common symptom: a quivering or fluttering heartbeat 

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. The abnormal firing of electrical impulses causes the atria (the top chambers in the heart) to quiver (or fibrillate).

Additional common symptoms of atrial fibrillation
Sometimes people with AFib have no symptoms and their condition is only detectable upon physical examination. Still, others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • General fatigue
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat
  • Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Faintness or confusion
  • Fatigue when exercising
  • Sweating
  • *Chest painor pressure
    *Chest pain or pressure is a medical emergency. You may be having a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 immediately.

Know your treatment goals

The treatment goals of atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib) start with a proper diagnosis through an in-depth examination from a physician. The exam usually includes questions about your history and often an EKG or ECG. Some patients may need a thorough electrophysiology study.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

Although no one is able to absolutely guarantee that a stroke or a clot can be preventable, there are ways to reduce risks for developing these problems.

After a patient is diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, the ideal goals may include:

  • Restoring the heart to a normal rhythm (called rhythm control)
  • Reducing an overly high heart rate (called rate control)
  • Preventing blood clots (called prevention of thromboembolism such as stroke)
  • Managing risk factors for stroke
  • Preventing additional heart rhythm problems
  • Preventing heart failure

Getting Back on Beat

Avoiding atrial fibrillation and subsequently lowering your stroke risk can be as simple as foregoing your morning cup of coffee. In other words, some AFib cases are only as strong as their underlying cause. If hyperthyroidism is the cause of AFib, treating the thyroid condition may be enough to make AFib go away.

Doctors can use a variety of different medications to help control the heart rate during atrial fibrillation.

Medline Plus

Conduct an off-site search for atrial fibrillation from MedlinePlus.  These up-to-date search results are based on search terms specific to Second Opinion.

Related Posts
Cardiac Comeback Panel Image
Cardiac Comeback

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, yet many people who have had heart attacks never start or continue their cardiac rehabilitation. Source:  American Heart Association What does cardiac rehab involve? Cardiac rehabilitation doesn’t change your past, but it can help you improve your heart’s future. Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program designed to Read More

Congenital Heart Disease

A congenital heart defect is a problem with the structure of the heart, and they are the most common form of birth defect. While it is present at birth, some people do not become aware of their congenital disorder until they are older. Many congenital heart defects are treatable, and people born with them can live full, active lives. Source: Mayo Read More

Hypothyroidism

It is estimated that 20 million people in the U.S. have thyroid disease and 12% of Americans will develop a thyroid condition in their lifetime. Thyroid disease can be life altering and debilitating, especially when left untreated. Source: Mayo Clinic Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough of certain crucial hormones. Hypothyroidism may not cause Read More

Smoking Cessation

While cigarette smoking rates continue to drop, in 2017, 14% of adults in America still smoked. Known as one of the hardest addictions to break, people are grasping at ways to kick the habit.Source: CDC Tobacco use can lead to tobacco/nicotine dependence and serious health problems. Quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing smoking-related diseases. Tobacco/nicotine dependence is a condition that often requires repeated Read More

Resources

American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.
Transcript PDF

Panelists