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Heart: Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

About

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of the most common and more serious heart rhythm disorders. It occurs when electrical signals arise from different areas within the atria, causing the heart’s upper chambers to pump too fast and unevenly. The heart beats very fast and the rhythm becomes uncoordinated, impairing the flow of blood from the heart.

While AFib is not life-threatening in itself, it should be treated to minimize the risks that are associated with it. These risks include:

  • Other rhythm problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke

During AFib, the left atrium doesn’t completely empty of blood; the remaining blood can become stagnant and clot. If a clot travels into the ventricle and out into the bloodstream, it can block an artery, causing a stroke. In fact, the risk of having a stroke is five times greater for people with AFib than for others. Between 15% and 20% of all strokes occur in people with AFib.

There are three types of AFib:

  • Paroxysmal AFib – occurs in short, intermittent episodes. The abnormal rhythm usually converts back to normal within a short time — from a few seconds to a few hours, seven days at the most.
  • Persistent AFib –does not convert back to normal rhythm on its own. Medical treatment is needed to stop the AFib. If the AFib continues for more than one year, it is called “longstanding persistent AFib.”
  • Permanent AFib – occurs when the heart continues to fibrillate, even after cardioversion has been attempted. This condition used to be called “chronic AFib.”