by Debra Wood, RN
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an erratic and often fast beating of the upper part of the heart. The main job of this part of the heart is to push blood into the lower section of the heart. The heart then pushes blood out to the body.
AFib can decrease the amount of blood that reaches the lower section of the heart. Less blood in the heart means there will be less blood pumped out to the body. Blood can also become trapped and pool in the upper heart. This increases the risk of blood clots and stroke. AFib may be:
The beating of the heart is started and controlled by electrical signals. Normally these signals start from an area of the heart called the SA node. The signals move from the SA node through the heart in an organized way. The upper chambers contract first followed by the lower chambers. AFib is when the upper chambers of the heart activate in an irregular way. It makes the contraction less effective. Causes of Afib include:
Sometimes the cause is not known.
Risk Factors TOP
AFib is more common in:
Other factors that may increase your chance of AFib include:
Certain habits and food or drink choices can stimulate the heart. They can increase the risk of AFib:
AFib may not cause any symptoms. Symptoms that do occur may range from mild to severe.
Fast beating in the upper part of the heart may cause:
If the AFib is decreasing the amount of blood that is being pumped out to the body you may have:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done to look for any signs of heart disease. The doctor may suspect a problem after listening to the heart and taking a pulse. The doctor may do one or more of the following:
For some people, AFib will go away without treatment. For others, goals of treatment may include:
The exact plan will depend on the cause of your AFib. If a cause is found, that may need to be managed first. For example, stopping or changing medicine may stop the AFib.
Heart Rhythm Control
Steps that may help slow or stop AFib include:
Clot and Stroke Prevention
AFib allows blood to pool in the upper part of the heart. Blood clots can form in this pool, travel out of the heart, and cause a stroke. Medicine will help to stop these clots from forming. However, it can also increase the risk of severe bleeding. Most anti-clotting medicine will need close watching by your care team.
A procedure called left atrial appendage closure (LAAC) may be considered if medicine is not an option. This procedure seals off a small area of the upper heart where clots tend to form.
Reducing Triggers TOP
Certain habits can trigger an episode of AFib or make it worse. To decrease the chance of making the AFib worse:
It is not always possible to prevent AFib. Talk to your doctor about your overall heart health. A healthy heart may reduce the risk of some AFib.
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society
Canadian Heart Rhythm Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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Electrical cardioversion. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/electrical-cardioversion. Accessed November 28, 2017.
Explore atrial fibrillation. National Heart,Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/af. Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed November 28, 2017.
Left atrial appendage and closure. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/left-atrial-appendage-closure. Updated June 2016. Accessed July 14, 2016.
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Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 2/2/2018
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