Understanding Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation or more commonly known as AFib is the most common type of arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is an issue with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. The term "fibrillate" means to contract very fast and irregularly.

Atrial fibrillation or an abnormal heart rhythm increases the risk of stroke significantly, as well as being a contributing factor of heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

More than 2.5 million Americans have an AFib heart rhythm disorder.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart, known as the ‘atria,’ quiver (fibrillate) and loose coordination with the heart’s lower chambers. This loss of heart rhythm coordination between the upper and lower heart chambers can cause the heart rate to become quite fast which results in the feeling of ‘palpitations’ or a ‘racing’ heartbeat, dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath. Because blood never
fully leaves the upper chambers of the heart, it may pool and form blood clots that can travel to the brain and lead to a stroke. Family history, age, a history of heart disease, being overweight, drug or alcohol use, even certain herbal remedies increase the
risk for atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation can happen to anyone, and it can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. A person may have never experienced symptoms and are diagnosed by a physical exam and an ECG/EKG. If you do have symptoms, you need to see a physician immediately. Even if your symptoms go away, you will still need to see a physician and have a physical exam. Your doctor may send you to see a cardiologist or an electrophysiologist for additional care. A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in finding, treating and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels. An electrophysiologist is a cardiologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of
abnormal heart rhythms. These doctors may work with your family doctor to help diagnose and manage your AFib. Additional tests are sometimes required, such as an echocardiogram, blood tests, exercise testing, ambulatory monitoring recording, a chest x-ray or an electrophysiologic study.

AFib may be corrected with an electric shock: this shock may change the beat of your heart back to normal. The person may take medicines such as beta blockers or antiarrhythmics,
to help return the heart rate to a normal rhythm or they may need surgery or other procedures to correct it. To reduce the risk of stroke, your doctor may prescribe medicine to keep blood clots from forming. Two examples are anticoagulants and antiplatelets, such as aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin). Your treatment of AFib will depend on its underlying cause and the impact it is having on your lifestyle.

The West Tennessee Heart & Vascular Center is home to a highly skilled team of specialists dedicated to the care of patients who experience health issues related to disease of the
heart and blood vessels (Cardiovascular Disease) and serves the 18 counties of West TN. For more information about the West Tennessee Heart & Vascular Center visit wthvc.org or call
731-541-CARE (2273).

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