Nationally Recognized AFib Care
University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute has a team of board-certified, fellowship-trained specialists dedicated to the care of patients with atrial fibrillation, or AFib. For decades, these experts have been involved with both the development and clinical delivery of the latest diagnostic and treatment techniques for AFib. Our long-term outcomes are on par with, or surpass, the expected procedural success rates of other highly experienced centers worldwide.
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What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation, also known as AF or AFib, is a heart rhythm abnormality caused by rapid and disorganized electrical impulses in the atria (upper chambers of the heart). When this happens, the atria may contract poorly and no longer effectively force blood into the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart). As a result, the sluggish blood flow may create clots in the left atrium in addition to decreasing overall heart function.
There are three types of atrial fibrillation:
- Paroxysmal AFib: This type usually comes on suddenly (symptoms can be mild to severe) and the episodes end spontaneously (on their own). Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation episodes may last for a few seconds, minutes, hours or longer before the heart resumes a normal rhythm on its own (in seven or fewer days).
- Persistent AFib: With this condition, the irregular heart rhythm continues indefinitely unless it is treated with medications and/or cardioversion.
- Permanent AFib: In this category, the irregular heart rhythm lasts more than seven days and may continue indefinitely unless treated with medications and/or cardioversion.
How Common Is Atrial Fibrillation?
- AFib is the most common heart rhythm disorder.
- More than 2.2 million people in the U.S. have AFib.
- About 160,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
- AFib is uncommon among young people, although it can occur in people of any age.
- The likelihood of developing AFib increases as one grows older, particularly beyond age 65.
What Risks Are Associated with Having Atrial Fibrillation?
AFib is usually not life-threatening if it is properly diagnosed and treated. However, AFib increases the risk of stroke, congestive heart failure or even death. According to the Framingham Heart Study, patients with AFib have a three to five times greater risk of stroke, especially individuals who are older than 65, had a prior stroke or have high blood pressure, diabetes or congestive heart failure.
What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?
In some patients, there is no apparent cause for AFib. These individuals have what is called “Lone” or Idiopathic AFib.
In others, the condition may be related to certain medical problems, such as:
- Coronary heart disease (CAD)
- High blood pressure
- Structural defects of the heart and its valves
- Inflammation of the heart (pericarditis)
- Lung disorders like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
- Thyroid disease
- Familial AFib (a rare, genetic disease)
AFib is also more likely to happen due to stress from an infection such as pneumonia or other illnesses, or right after surgery. Even stress from daily living, caffeine and alcohol may also induce an occurrence of an AFib attack or heart rhythm disturbances.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
The signs and symptoms of AFib vary from person to person. You may have AFib without any of the following symptoms (asymptomatic) or you may have additional symptoms not listed below.
Common symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations, fluttering or racing of the heart
- Irregular heartbeat
- Fatigue or decreased energy level
- Anxiety or fear
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Atrial Fibrillation Treatment Options
Beyond providing leading medical, ablative and surgical treatments, University Hospitals’ experts also participate in clinical trials evaluating new strategies for treating AFib. Our team will work with you to create a specific treatment plan for your AFib targeting stroke prevention, heart rate control and ultimately means to restore normal sinus rhythm.
How Is AFib Diagnosed?
In addition to a thorough medical examination, your doctor will need to perform additional noninvasive testing to diagnose atrial fibrillation. These tests may include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): A noninvasive recording of the electrical activity in your heart.
- Holter monitor: A small, lightweight portable device worn for a period of 24-48 hours and captures the electrical activity of your heart during the entire time it is worn.
- Event monitor: A portable device worn for seven to 30 days (time period determined by your doctor) that records your heart’s electrical activity. This test is typically used in patients with AFib that is infrequent or less symptomatic.
- Electrophysiology study: A test that records the electrical activity and electrical pathways of your heart. This test is used to help reveal the cause of a patient’s arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) and to determine the best course of treatment.
Our board-certified and fellowship-trained electrophysiologists have been involved with both the development and clinical delivery of catheter ablation techniques for more than 30 years. Ablation has the potential to cure AFib, helping to restore normal heart rhythm and eliminate the need for atrial fibrillation medications and blood thinners. Our long-term ablation results equal or surpass the expected procedural success rates of the most experienced centers worldwide.