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Atrial fibrillation (say "AY-tree-uhl fih-bruh-LAY-shun") is a common type of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Normally, the heart beats in a strong, steady rhythm. In atrial fibrillation, a problem with the heart's electrical system causes the two upper chambers of the heart (called the atria) to quiver, or fibrillate.
Atrial fibrillation can be dangerous. This is because if the heartbeat isn't strong and steady, blood can collect, or pool, in the atria. And pooled blood is more likely to form clots. Clots can travel to the brain, block blood flow, and cause a stroke. Atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure.
This condition also upsets the normal rhythm between the atria and the lower chambers of the heart. (These chambers are called the ventricles.) The ventricles may beat fast and without a regular rhythm.
Some people feel symptoms when they have episodes of atrial fibrillation. But other people don't notice any symptoms.
If you have symptoms, you may feel:
You may notice signs of atrial fibrillation when you check your pulse. Your pulse may seem uneven or fast.
At first, spells of atrial fibrillation may come on suddenly and last a short time. They may go away on their own or with treatment. Over time, the spells may last longer and occur more often. They often don't go away on their own.
Treatments can help you feel better and prevent future problems, especially stroke and heart failure.
The main types of treatment slow the heart rate, control the heart rhythm, and help prevent stroke. Your treatment will depend on the cause of your atrial fibrillation, your symptoms, and your risk for stroke. Types of treatment include:
A heart-healthy lifestyle helps keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. It can help you manage atrial fibrillation and may help reduce how often you have episodes.
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Current as of: December 16, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & John M. Miller MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
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