Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as “AFib,” is an irregular heartbeat, a rapid heartbeat or a quivering of the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria. Atrial fibrillation is due to a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system, and is the most common heart irregularity, or cardiac arrhythmia.
When you have atrial fibrillation, you might notice a skipped heartbeat, and then feel a thud or thump, followed by your heart racing for an extended amount of time. Some patients may feel heart palpitations or fluttering or jumping of your heart. Others may experience sweating or chest pain, mimicking a heart attack. Or you may find that your pulse, instead of being strong and regular, is instead erratic or weak. For others, atrial fibrillation may be so subtle that you do not feel an irregular heartbeat, but you may realize that you are dizzy, weak, tired or breathless.
- Age: The older you are, the greater your risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
- Heart disease: Anyone with heart disease, including valve problems and a history of heart attack and heart surgery, has an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
- High blood pressure: Having high blood pressure, especially if it is not well controlled with lifestyle changes or medications, can increase your risk of atrial fibrillation.
- Other chronic conditions: People with thyroid problems, sleep apnea and other medical problems have an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
- Drinking alcohol: For some people, drinking alcohol can trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation.
Binge drinking – having five drinks in two hours for men, or four drinks for women – may put you at higher risk.
- Family history: An increased risk of atrial fibrillation runs in some families.
Typically, afib is diagnosed by a simple EKG or ECG (electrocardiogram) where several electrodes are placed on your skin to measure and record your heart’s electrical activity in wavelengths.
- Control heart rate or heart rhythm through medication or electrical cardioversion
- Avoid blood clots and stroke through anticoagulation with medication such as Coumadin® or Warfarin
- Electrical cardioversion is a process by which the heart is shocked to convert it from an irregular rhythm back into a normal sinus rhythm.
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