Atrial fibrillation (a-fib) is the most common heart rhythm disorder, affecting close to 3 million Americans. The causes of atrial fibrillation are unclear and the subject of ongoing research, but if left untreated, a-fib can lead to stroke or heart failure.
People who have atrial fibrillation might feel palpitations in their heart or a fluttering sensation in their chest. They might feel light-headed, weak or have chest pain. Some may have a lack of energy or shortness of breath. Still others feel nothing at all, and have no idea that they have atrial fibrillation.
It is most often diagnosed by your general practitioner and confirmed by use of an electrocardiogram (EKG).
Atrial fibrillation is the result of problems with the electrical signal inside the heart. Normally, electrical signals tell the atria, the upper chambers of the heart, to properly contract and pump blood throughout the body.
When there are problems with those signals, rather than contractions, the atria make a fluttering motion that limits the amount of blood being pumped out of the chamber and causes blood to pool in the chamber, where it can form clots.
If and when those clots are pumped out, they can cause problems if they wind up going to the brain, for example, where they might block the blood supply to an artery, causing a stroke.
Initial treatment for atrial fibrillation may involve the prescription of antiarrythmic or anticoagulant medications.
With the growing field of electrophysiology, patients have another choice, one that is a specialty of the Heart Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health-a procedure called cardiac ablation.
Dr. Rick Henderson, an electrophysiologist with Wake Forest Baptist Health, discusses cardiac ablation and other promising procedures in the treatment of atrial fibrillation.
Links of Interest on Atrial Fibrillation
American Heart Association
National Institutes of Health
Stopafib, a nonprofit patient-to-patient resource for people with atrial fibrillation
Request an Appointment with a Heart Center physician today.