Atrial Fibrillation

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a series of abnormal electrical impulses that come from the atria, or the upper chambers of the heart. These impulses travel to the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart, in a chaotic manner. This causes the atria to quiver, or “fibrillate,” at a very rapid rate. The ventricles receive these impulses and beat irregularly.

How Common is Afib?

There are approximately 2.3 million people in the United States affected by this rhythm. Nearly 160,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. This rhythm usually affects people over 60 years of age, but younger people may develop it as well.

What Are the Dangers of Having Afib?

Afib is a serious medical condition. It can cause a stroke (blood clots that go to the brain) or heart failure (the heart cannot pump efficiently).

What Are the Risks for Developing Afib?

  • Age over 60 years old
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Family history of Afib
  • Chronic health conditions such as diabetes, thyroid problems, chronic lung disease, or sleep apnea

What Are the Symptoms of Afib?

Every person experiences the symptoms of Afib differently. Some people have no symptoms at all. Some people know right away when their heart is out of rhythm. Some of the most common symptoms with Afib include:

  • Feeling tired or fatigued and unable to do daily activities/exercise
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (heart racing or feeling slow, fluttering, skipping, etc.)
  • Tightness or discomfort in the chest
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Fainting
  • Increased need to go to the bathroom
  • Swelling in the legs

Can You Treat Afib?

Yes, with the goals of treatment including the following:

  • Returning the heart back to normal rhythm
  • Controlling the heart rate (speed)
  • Preventing blood clots
  • Treating the underlying cause of the Afib
  • Reducing the factors that may lead to the Afib getting worse

What Are the Treatments for Afib?

Afib is a complex, clinical problem with a variety of treatment options. Depending on the degree and duration of symptoms, treatments may vary from patient to patient. Our hope in the Afib clinic is to help patients through the variety of choices. Our special Afib team at Nebraska Heart Institute will work with each patient to develop a treatment that is individualized and appropriate for each case. Some of these treatments may include:

  • Medications – keeps the heart in normal rhythm, keeps the fast heart rate under control, and prevents blood clots, which reduces the risk of stroke.
  • Cardioversion – an electrical shock is delivered to the chest to assist the heart to get back to normal rhythm.
  • Catheter Ablation – wires called catheters are placed in the heart with the assistance of x-rays. The area of abnormal electric signals is found. Then, radio waves deliver heat to destroy the electrical tissue, causing the abnormal rhythm to stop.
  • Surgical Ablation – another type of procedure where the surgeon can see the heart directly and perform the ablation with catheters.
  • Left Atrial Appendage Closure Devices – closes off a pouch connected to the heart, called the appendage, and significantly reduces the risk of stroke.