What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that involves the upper chambers of the heart or the atria. The left atrium is more commonly involved in the cause of atrial fibrillation than the other heart chambers (90%). During atrial fibrillation, the atria or the upper chambers beat out of synch with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart causing heart palpitations, skipped beats, decreased energy, shortness of breath and weakness.
Atrial fibrillation itself usually is not life-threatening but it can lead to congestive heart failure (weak heart muscle) in some patients. In some instances, it can be a serious medical condition that requires emergency treatment.
In some patients, atrial fibrillation is silent and is not associated with symptoms and could be discovered by a routine ECG or during a physical examination. Regardless of how patients feel when they are in atrial fibrillation, they should seek medical attention and consult with their physician regarding treatment options.
There are two types of Atrial Fibrillation:
- Paroxysmal: atrial fibrillation that can come and go spontaneously without the need for medications or interventions from your doctor
- Persistent or chronic: Episodes that last longer than 48 hours, require a medication to convert back to normal rhythm or are present all the time
Normal Rhythm vs. Atrial Fibrillation
Click below to watch a short video depicting a heart in normal rhythm Courtesy of Biosense Webster.
Click below to watch a short video depicting a heart in Afib Courtesy of Biosense Webster.
The normal intrinsic pacemaker of your heart is in the right upper chamber. It is made up of a group of cells called the sinus node. Impulses from this area normally “fire” at a rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Those impulses travel down the bridge (AV node) that electrically separates the upper chambers of your heart from the lower chambers. Thereafter, the impulse goes to the ventricles causing them to contract and eject blood out to the rest of your body.
In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of your heart (atria) take over the function of the normal pacemaker or the sinus node by generating chaotic electrical signals “firing” at 300 to 360 bpm. As a result, the upper chambers or atria quiver and don’t efficiently empty blood to the lower chambers.
The AV node or the electrical bridge that separates the upper chambers from the lower chambers becomes saturated with those fast impulses, and allows only a fraction to pass on to the ventricles. The result is a fast and irregular heart rhythm ranging from 100 to 175 beats a minute.
If you think you may have this condition, and would like to speak with our office about your options, please click here for our office locations and phone numbers.