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Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Program

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Everyone has experienced their heart skip a beat — it’s a normal reaction when you’re feeling excited, anxious or scared. But if you notice your heart is fluttering regularly, you may have a more serious condition called atrial fibrillation (AFib).

AFib is a heart condition where your heart beats irregularly or rapidly (arrhythmia). With AFib, your heart’s upper chamber (atria) beats out of sync with the lower chambers (ventricles). This irregular rhythm causes your heart to quiver (“fibrillate”), making it feel like your heart is fluttering or racing.

If you have AFib, it’s important to diagnose and treat it as soon as possible to prevent more severe and long-term health problems. AFib makes it harder for your heart to pump blood, so your brain and other organs can’t operate at their best. AFib can also cause blood to pool or clot, which increases your risk for stroke — people with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke than people without AFib.

AFib is the most common arrhythmia condition in the United States. The American Heart Association estimates at least 2.7 million people in the United States have AFib today. Studies show that number will grow to 12.1 million by 20301.

What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?

AFib may occasionally happen (paroxysmal AFib) or be constant (chronic AFib).

Sometimes we may not know what causes AFib. But we do know that certain health conditions and lifestyle habits can change the electrical signals in your heart. These irregular signals can lead to arrhythmia and AFib.

Some of the most common causes of AFib include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol or caffeine
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation near the heart
  • Leaky heart valves
  • Lung illnesses
  • Not exercising or an inactive lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Previous heart attack
  • Sleep apnea
  • Thyroid problems

Signs of Atrial Fibrillation

While atrial fibrillation is rarely painful, it can feel like your heart is racing or flip-flopping in your chest. AFib can also make you feel weak, tired, dizzy, lightheaded or short of breath.

In some cases, you may not have any symptoms of AFib.

Are you wondering whether you may be at risk for AFib? Learn more about the risk factors, symptoms and treatment in this podcast with Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen, Director of clinical cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at VCU Health.


Atrial Fibrillation Treatment in Richmond, Virginia

If you’ve been diagnosed with AFib, we’ll create a personalized treatment plan to help get your heart back to beating the way it should. Our team has access to a full range of innovative therapies and medications so that we can find the best approach for you.

Depending on your health needs, our team may decide to use non-surgical or surgical treatment to treat your AFib. Many of the surgeries we use are minimally invasive, which helps improve recovery time.

Read our patient story about Charles Chitwood. Charles has relied on the team at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center to keep an eye on several heart problems, including AFib.

Pioneers in Hybrid Ablation

We pioneered a unique AFib treatment approach called hybrid ablation. With this procedure, you receive a combination of surgical and catheter-based ablation. Hybrid ablation targets tissue on both the outside and inside of the heart, making sure the area does not send out any abnormal electrical signals to create an irregular heartbeat.

Hybrid ablation has been life-saving for many patients, especially individuals whose previous AFib treatments failed. Watch with Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen, Director of clinical cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at VCU Health explain this treatment in the video below:


AFib Patient Follow Up

All patients receiving therapy for atrial fibrillation – whether catheter ablation or surgical therapy - require lifelong follow up to monitor anticoagulation, heart rate and rhythm.

The goal is to maintain normal AV sinus rhythm using ablation procedures and without medications to correct the rhythm. Patients have a 2-4 week monitoring of their heart rhythm at six months, one year and two years after the procedure to document absence of atrial fibrillation. Patients who remain free from atrial fibrillation for a long period may be evaluated for possible cessation of the use of warfarin, the drug used to prevent strokes.

Contact Our Atrial Fibrillation Doctors

To learn more about our AFib program and treatment, contact the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center. If you’re ready to meet with our team, you can schedule an appointment with one of our atrial fibrillation specialists. 

1Miyasaka Y, Barnes ME, Gersh BJ, et al. Secular trends in incidence of atrial fibrillation in Olmsted County, Minnesota, 1980 to 2000, and implications on the projections for future prevalence. Circulation. 2006;114:199–225. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.595140