Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms

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Atrial fibrillation, or A-Fib, is a type of arrhythmia in which the heart beats irregularly. It is often described to feel like "fish jumping in my chest". Although many people feel no symptoms at all,  possible symptoms for A-Fib include:

  • Palpitations, which are sensations of a racing, or fluttering in your chest
  • General Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness
  • Confusion or Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure ( if you are experiencing chest pain, Call 911)

 A-Fib affects six million people in the U.S. There are several types of A-Fib:

  • Paroxysmal, for which the irregular heartbeat lasts less than seven days, usually less than 24 hours and has recurred at least twice
  • Persistent, for which the irregular heartbeat lasts longer than seven days, but the abnormal rhythm can be stopped with treatment
  • Permanent, as defined when the arrhythmia lasts longer than one year and does not respond to treatment or treatment has not been attempted.

Although A-Fib itself is not life-threatening, it can have serious consequences. People with A-Fib are at a much higher risk of stroke. Left untreated, A-Fib can lead to heart failure.

MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute physicians achieve consistently high rates of success at controlling this highly challenging heart rhythm disorder that affects about one percent of the entire population and about 10 percent of people older than 80.

Risk Factors

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Previous heart attack
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart valve problems
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Diabetes
  • Other arrhythmias, including atrial flutter and ventricular fibrillation
  • Inflammation, such as after heart surgery (CABG)
  • Lung diseases, including pulmonary embolism
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Viral infections
  • Obesity
  • Over 65 years of age

Diagnostic Tools

Treatment

  • Medicines- aspirin, warfarin, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and anti-arrhythmic medicines to control heart rate and prevent stroke
  • Cardioversion - a procedure in which an abnormally fast heart rate (tachycardia) or cardiac arrhythmia is converted to a normal rhythm using electricity or drugs. Synchronized electrical cardioversion uses a therapeutic dose of electric current to the heart at a specific moment in the cardiac cycle.
  • Ablation -  a surgical procedure that scars a very small area of heart tissue. The target area scarred is the source of the irregular electrical impulses that cause atrial fibrillation. Once the living tissue is damaged or destroyed, it can no longer produce the electrical signals that lead to an arrhythmia.
  • Hybrid Ablation-  for those patients whose A-Fib requires a more aggressive treatment. It’s a two-pronged approach that gives doctors access to both the inside and outside of the heart at the same time, helping to more completely block the erratic electrical signals that cause atrial fibrillation.
  • Surgery- for people who do not respond to medical therapy or ablation, often performed along with other heart surgery.

  Learn more about Convergent Atrial Fibrillation Ablation at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute.

Learn more about Atrial Fibrillation by watching this short video.

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To find a heart specialist, call:

877-74-HEART (43278)