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Understanding Atrial Fibrillation

Symptoms and Risk

Atrial fibrillation may occur from time-to-time (paroxysmal), or be constant (chronic). Though AFib is rarely painful, you may feel symptoms such as lightheadedness, shortness of breath, fatigue – or nothing at all. If treated appropriately, atrial fibrillation or flutter seldom cause serious or life-threatening problems. AFib can lead to serious complications and irreversible damage, so it’s important to seek treatment.

While for many people there is no apparent cause for AF, it can be related to underlying conditions or risk factors including:

  • Previous heart attack, congestive heart failure, leaky valves, coronary artery disease or inflammation near the heart
  • High blood pressure or diabetes
  • Thyroid, lung or other illnesses
  • High levels of caffeine or alcohol use
  • Sleep disordered breathing

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose atrial fibrillation, a doctor may start by feeling your pulse; if irregular, AFib is suspected. A diagnosis is then confirmed with an electrocardiogram, or ECG. This is a simple, painless test that records the electrical activity of the heart. Some patients may be asked to wear a small portable device to record the heartbeat over time.

Treatment for AFib may include medical management, cardiac assist devices, catheter ablation procedures using advanced mapping technology, and a variety of minimally invasive and surgical approaches. To learn more about treatment options, see the links at the right.