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Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting around 2 million people in the United States. It a heart condition which causes an irregular heart and often, an abnormally fast heart rate. If untreated, is a significant risk factor for stroke.

Types of atrial fibrillation

  • Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. This comes and goes and usually stops without treatment, but may recur periodically.
  • Persistent atrial fibrillation. This last for more than 7 days or longer if left untreated.

One person in four over 40 years of age have a chance of developing atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is often without symptoms and is discovered on routine testing, but symptoms should they occur would include a fast heart rate, feeling of tiredness, dizziness, or chest pain or tightness. The risk for atrial fibrillation increases with age, but can occur at any age.

The main risk associated with atrial fibrillation is stroke due to blood clot formation in the heart caused by the irregular rhythm. Heart failure may occur due to the reduction of the heart’s pumping efficiency as well. In isolated cases, damage to the heart muscle may occur due to the rapid heart rate associated with atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is common with certain heart conditions and other medical conditions, such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • atherosclerosis
  • heart valve disease
  • diabetes
  • overactive thyroid
  • blood clots
  • COPD/emphysema
  • enlarged heart

Alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and certain drugs may trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation.

Treatment of atrial fibrillation may include an electrical shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm, or medication to control the heart rate and to prevent the blood from clotting to reduce the risk of stroke.