Atrial Fibrillation

The Rhythm of Your Heart.

Atrial fibrillation (also called A-fib or AF) is a common rapid or irregular heart rhythm condition in which the electrical impulses that control muscle contractions in the upper chambers of the heart or atria become rapid and chaotic. A-fib is the most common heart rhythm disorder in the United States, with over 160,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.

Who’s at Risk?

While A-fib is uncommon in young people, it can occur in people of any age. But the likelihood of developing A-fib increases as we age. After age 65, between three and five percent of people have atrial fibrillation. Approximately nine percent of people age 80 or older have the condition.

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of A-fib vary from person to person. For some, it feels like a sudden flutter or tremor of the heart, while others feel nothing unusual at all. Many people say that they’re aware of exactly when their heartbeat becomes irregular and more rapid than normal. They also may experience anxiety and fear, especially the first few times they experience an episode of A-fib. Other symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness and difficulty exercising — even walking or going up a flight of stairs
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting (syncope)

If you are experiencing the symptoms of A-fib, you need to see a physician immediately.

Your physician will most likely diagnose the condition through a combination of checking your pulse and recording an electrocardiogram (ECG). If your pulse is irregular and faster than 100 beats per minute, the physician may suspect A-fib. The diagnosis will be confirmed with the ECG, which is a simple, painless test to record the heart’s electrical activity through electrodes attached temporarily to your chest, arms, and legs. The ECG test is usually performed in the doctor’s office, although some patients are asked to wear a small portable device to record a series of ECGs over a period of 24-48 hours.

Treatment Options

To prevent stroke, anticoagulant therapy may be used. To treat the arrhythmias, the following treatments are available:

  • Oral medications
  • Cardioversion
  • Pacemakers
  • Catheter ablation
  • Surgical treatment

In some cases, you may be referred to The St.Vincent Heart Center’s A-fib Center of Excellence, which provides a wide range of treatments for A-fib. St.Vincent Heart Center cardiologists and surgeons work together to determine the best treatment options for their patients.