Atrial Fibrillation

Overview

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AF or AFib, is a type of rapid, irregular heartbeat. It occurs when a storm of electrical impulses spreads through your heart. This “storm” causes the chambers of the heart (atria) to quiver or contract rapidly.

When your heartbeat becomes irregular or racing, our experts can help restore your heart rhythm. We were the first in the world to offer 4-D ultrasound technology allowing cardiologists to see deeper into the structures of the heart.

Our Atrial Fibrillation Ablation Center is the only center in Wisconsin – and one of only a few nationwide – that offers minimally invasive hybrid procedures to correct the heart rhythm of people living with complex atrial fibrillation (AFib). Find out more about our Atrial Fibrillation Ablation Center.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

Feeling your heart fluttering, or feeling chest pain, can be scary. Many times, these sensations don’t indicate anything serious. But when they come back, or when they’re severe, it’s a good idea to have a doctor evaluate your health.

Most people experience AFib as one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and weakness, especially with physical exertion
  • Heart palpitations (feeling that your heart is skipping a beat or beating too hard or fast)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in your feet

For some people, AFib may only last a short time, but it may come back over and over. For others, it can become permanent. This is known as chronic atrial fibrillation.

Causes & Complications

Atrial Fibrillation: Causes & Complications

AFib becomes more common as people age. Additionally, risk factors for AFib include:

AFib can lead to other health issues if it isn’t treated. These complications can include:

  • Blood clots: The irregular heart rhythm of AFib can cause blood clots to form, which can lead to a stroke.
  • Heart failure: AFib can weaken the lower chambers of your heart. This weakening can result in heart failure and other conditions.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation

Most people first notice atrial fibrillation as a fluttering sensation in the chest. Heart problems can be serious, so if you suspect a heart issue, it is important to talk with your doctor.

Other times, a doctor detects AFib when you’re receiving other tests or treatment.

Either way, to diagnose AFib and develop the best treatment for you, we may use tests and diagnostic procedures, such as:

  • Physical exam: We will listen to your heart with a stethoscope to check for a heart murmur or other sign of an irregular heartbeat.
  • Laboratory testing: With laboratory testing, we can check your electrolyte levels or thyroid hormone levels to look for a cause of your AFib.
  • Other diagnostic tests: Several tests can help us check the function of your heart. These may include:
    • Heart ultrasound
    • Electrocardiograph testing (EKG)
    • Holter monitoring, which sends a monitor home with you for 24 to 48 hours, so we can see how your heart works throughout the course of a normal day
    • Event monitoring, which records heart rhythms for about a month
  • Chest X-ray: We may order a chest X-ray to examine the structure of your heart and lungs.

Learn more about heart and vascular testing and diagnosis at Aurora.

Treatment

Individualized Care for Atrial Fibrillation

The treatment for AFib depends on how often you have symptoms, their severity and whether you already have heart disease. People who have AFib but don’t have symptoms may still need treatment.

Depending on the cause of the AFib, we may prescribe one or more treatments including:

  • Lifestyle changes: These may include diet, exercise or calming activities.
  • Medications: Medications that treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure or thyroid disease may help with AFib.
  • Cardioversion: Electrical cardioversion is a quick procedure, performed under anesthesia, to return the heartbeat to a normal rhythm using electric shock. People usually go home an hour or two after the procedure. Find out more about electrical cardioversion.
  • Implantable defibrillator: In some cases, doctors may recommend an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This device automatically identifies AFib and corrects your heart rhythm. Read more about implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs).
  • Surgery: Our surgeons are some of the nation’s leading experts in minimally invasive hybrid ablation surgery for people with AFib. This procedure corrects heart rhythm, almost painlessly, and more effectively than medications.

Learn more about Aurora Health Care’s Atrial Fibrillation Ablation Center.

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