Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is an irregular heartbeat originating from the top chambers of the heart. It is the most common cardiac arrhythmia (heart rhythm abnormality) worldwide. In the U.S. alone, over 5.5 million people have atrial fibrillation, and this number is growing as the population ages.
Causes of Afib
While the exact cause of atrial fibrillation is unknown, we do know that it is more common with age and affects certain groups of people more than others. Possible causes of Afib include the following:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Abnormal heart valve
- Heart defects you're born with
- An overactive thyroid gland
- Exposure to stimulants (medications, caffeine, tobacco or alcohol)
- Lung diseases
- Previous heart surgery
- Stress due to surgery, pneumonia or other illnesses
- Sleep apnea
Certain factors may increase your risk of developing Afib including advanced age, heart disease, high blood pressure, drinking alcohol, obesity, other chronic conditions and a family history.
The most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation are palpitations, fatigue, exercise intolerance, and shortness of breath. Some people with Afib have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition until it's discovered during a physical exam. Symptoms may be occasional meaning they last for a few minutes to hours, or they may be persistent which means your heart rhythm doesn't go back to normal on its own, another possibility is that the symptoms are permanent and the abnormal heart rhythm can't be restored.
If left untreated, atrial fibrillation can cause strokes and heart failure.
Medications assist in controlling the heart rate and rhythm, and blood thinners are critical to decrease the likelihood of stroke. The most effective treatment for atrial fibrillation is catheter ablation. This is a low-risk outpatient procedure that returns the heart to normal rhythm and decreases the chance of returning to atrial fibrillation.
Our team at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center
The atrial fibrillation team at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center is dedicated to providing ethical and quality care to patients in the Treasure Coast with atrial fibrillation. The electrophysiologists (EPs) specialize in the management of atrial fibrillation and perform numerous catheter ablation procedures using cutting edge technology. We always treat patients with compassion and aim to improve patients' quality of life.
Author: Dr. Jason Appelbaum manages all aspects of heart rhythm disorders with medical therapy, catheter ablation, and device implantation. He remains on the cutting edge of electrophysiology by performing complex ablations.