Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of arrhythmia. AFib is a very irregular and fast heart rate that can cause poor blood flow. It occurs in the top chambers of the heart called the atria.

Symptoms of AFib can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, lightheadedness and even fatigue. Risk factors for AFib include increasing age, diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea, heart failure, heart valve disorders, drinking alcohol, smoking, high blood pressure and family history. While there is not always one cause or trigger for AFib, treating any associated diseases is very important.

Podcast: Treatment Options for Atrial Fibrillation

In this podcast, Dr. Leichman discusses risk factors and treatment options for atrial fibrillation, including medication and surgery.

AFib is associated with a greater risk for stroke. People with AFib and certain high risk factors need to consider using blood-thinning medications to help prevent the possibility of a stroke. The decision to use these types of medications should be discussed with your doctor.

AFib is diagnosed with an electrocardiogram (EKG) or other monitoring devices. AFib is categorized as paroxysmal, persistent and permanent. Paroxysmal AFib comes and goes and does not generally need to be treated. Episodes may last a few minutes or up to 24 hours. Persistent AFib lasts for days and requires medical attention. Permanent AFib is always present and does not respond to medical therapy or intervention.

AFib can be treated in a variety of ways. Typically, medications to slow the heart rate down are prescribed first. If this doesn’t work, other types of medication may be used. If medication is not effective, a medical procedure called cardiac ablation may also be used. During this procedure, high-frequency radio waves or liquid nitrogen is used to destroy the heart tissue that’s causing the irregular electrical signals. Lastly, devices, such as pacemakers, can be used to help the heart beat at a normal rate. Pacemakers are almost always reserved for those with permanent AFib.

The various treatment options apply to patients differently and should be thoroughly discussed with your physician. All treatment options have pros and cons that need to be considered. Medications have potential for side effects, whether it is slowing down the heart rate too much or causing other problems. Ablation carries the risks associated with an invasive procedures using general anesthesia.

Atrial Flutter

Atrial flutter is a rapid heart rate that is closely related to AFib. It has similar risk factors and is also diagnosed using an EKG. Because of the very rapid nature of the arrhythmia, atrial flutter increases the risk for the formation of clots and stroke. Stroke prevention in atrial flutter is the same as for AFib and depends on certain risk factors. You should discuss using blood-thinning medications with your doctor.