Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heart beat). It may cause
no symptoms, but it is often associated with palpitations, fainting, chest
pain or congestive heart failure. It increases the risk of stroke by as
much as seven times that of the average population. AF is the most common
cause of stroke in the elderly.
During AF, the upper chamber of the heart beats too fast and is ineffective.
Blood pools in the chambers and can form clots. If a clot breaks loose,
enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain, it can block the artery
and cause a stroke. While this doesn’t happen to everyone with AF,
does increase the risk.
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation:
- An uncomfortable, irregular, racing heartbeat, or a sensation of “flopping”
in the chest
- Weakness and difficulty exercising
- Dizziness, fainting
- Chest pain or pressure
- An estimated two million Americans are living with AF. Although often times,
doctors don’t know what caused it in a particular individual, there
are certain factors that may indicate someone is more likely to develop
AF. The factors include:
- Having coronary artery disease or a heart attack
- Having high blood pressure
- Having an overactive thyroid
- Having lung disease
- Increasing age
The first line of treatment for AF is medication to help keep blood clots
from forming and help keep the heart beat as normal as possible. Radiofrequency
ablation or surgery may be used to restore a normal heart beat.