Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

  • Medical Author:
    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Afib medical prevention

Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation occur when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat in a disorganized fashion. Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia. Characteristic symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath,
  • palpitations, and
  • lightheadedness.

Other symptoms of atrial fibrillation are:

  • fatigue,
  • confusion, and
  • a reduced tolerance for exercise.

Quick GuideAtrial Fibrillation: Heart Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment for AFib

Atrial Fibrillation: Heart Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment for AFib

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) facts

  • Atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AFib) is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm.
  • AFib is caused by abnormal electrical discharges (signals) that generate chaotically throughout the upper chambers of the heart (atria).
  • AFib reduces the ability of the atria to pump blood into the ventricles, and usually causes the heart to beat too rapidly.
  • One-half million new cases of atrial fibrillation are diagnosed every year in the U.S., and billions of dollars are spent annually on its diagnosis and treatment.
  • Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:
  • Complications of atrial fibrillation include heart failure and stroke.
  • Atrial fibrillation can be diagnosed by physical examination, electrocardiogram, Holter monitor, or patient-activated event recorder.
  • Treatment of AFib is directed toward controlling underlying causes, slowing the heart rate and/or converting the heart to normal rhythm, and stroke prevention using blood-thinning medications.
  • Medications are commonly used in the longer term to control or prevent recurrence of AFib, but medications may not be effective and may have intolerable side effects.
  • Electrical cardioversion is successful in over 95% of patients with AFib, but 75% of patients have a recurrence of AFib within 1 to 2 years.
  • Some doctors may leave patients in AFib for the longer term provided the heart rate is under control, blood flow is adequate, and blood is adequately thinned with medications.
  • Non-medication treatments of atrial fibrillation include pacemakers, AV node ablation, atrial defibrillators, and the Maze procedure.
  • Pulmonary vein isolation shows promise for the treatment of atrial fibrillation and has a high rate of success; however, longer-term experience is necessary.
Reviewed on 7/13/2016
References
Medically reviewed by: Robert J. Bryg, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Cardiovascular Disease.

REFERENCES:

UpToDate. Patient information: Atrial fibrillation (Beyond the Basics).

Wann, Samuel L., et al. "2011 ACCF/AHA/HRS focused update on the management of patients with atrial fibrillation (Updating the 2006 Guideline): a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines." Journal of the American College of Cardiology 57.2 (2011): 223-242.

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