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Atrial Fibrillation

Out of Rhythm: Atrial Fibrillation

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is characterized as an irregular and rapid heart rate and is the most common heart arrhythmia in the United States. Currently three to five million Americans are affected by this condition, and it is projected that number will reach 10 million by 2050. The condition increases your risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. Twenty percent of all strokes are caused by AF and these strokes tend to be more severe.

During AF, the heart's two upper chambers (the atria) beat chaotically out of sync with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart. AF symptoms often include heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness.

Risk factors for AF include increased age, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and prior heart attacks.

How do I know if it is AF?

AF can be identified during a routine doctor visit or electrocardiogram. Some patients find it helpful to use heart-rate monitoring technology available on wearable devices such as FitBit and the Apple Watch. The tech community is also creating new devices and apps that pair with smart phones to record your own EKG and send them to your healthcare provider. If you feel that your heart rate isn’t quite right be sure to promptly discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

Treatment Options

There are several ways to treat AF. Patients whose lifestyle is not impaired may find that they do not need treatment. Patients who feel lethargic or have other consistent symptoms often find relief with pharmaceutical therapy. Additionally, some patients may benefit from minimally invasive procedures such as a catheter ablation. During the treatment, the physician destroys areas that are firing abnormal electrical impulses causing the chaotic heart rate. This procedure can relieve symptoms and restore quality of life for patients. Patients with persistent arrhythmia that have not found relief from other therapies or those who have abnormally large hearts may benefit from a hybrid ablation. This treatment is a collaborative approach performed by an electrophysiologist and a cardiothoracic surgeon. Working together, they restore a normal heart rhythm by blocking the damaged electrical pathways that cause the irregular heartbeat.

If you have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, be sure to ask your doctor which treatment options may be best for you. Learn more about El Camino Hospital’s advanced treatments to provide people with AF a better quality of life and reduce the risk for stroke.

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