Saint Thomas Health > Heart > Arrhythmia > Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation

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What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (A Fib or AF) is the most common abnormal heart rhythm condition. The American Heart Association estimates that over 2.7 million Americans are living with AF. In AF, the upper chambers of the heart (atria) are beating rapidly and ineffectively resulting in an irregular and oftentimes fast heart rate. The heart pumps blood less efficiently and blood may pool in the atria forming a blood clot.

What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

Common symptoms of atrial fibrillation are a feeling of heart racing or fluttering (palpitations), shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, weakness, lightheadedness, chest discomfort or pain. Some people have several of these symptoms; many people have no symptoms at all.

Why does it matter?

Atrial fibrillation is not typically life threatening, but it is associated with an up to five times greater risk of stroke. According to the American Heart Association, the most serious risk of AF is that it can lead to other medical problems including stroke, heart failure, chronic fatigue, additional heart rhythm problems, and inconsistent blood supply.

What are the risk factors?

Atrial fibrillation is most common in people 60 years of age or older. However, atrial fibrillation can occur at any age. Sometimes, atrial fibrillation has no identifiable cause, but your risk increases if you have coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, heart valve disease, lung disease, an overactive thyroid, obesity, sleep apnea, heavy alcohol intake, or use of medications or substances that stimulate the heart.

What are the treatment options for atrial fibrillation?

Three goals for therapy are: to restore and maintain sinus rhythm, control heart rate, and prevent stroke.

Treatment for atrial fibrillation depends on how severe the symptoms are and if there are any other medical diagnoses such as heart disease or stroke. Follow this link to the American Heart Association simplified treatment guidelines.

Treatment options include: Blood thinning medication, medications to control the heart rate or rhythm or both, cardioversion, catheter ablation, surgical ablation, and cryoablation.

The Saint Thomas Heart Approach

For more than two decades, Saint Thomas Heart has remained at forefront of atrial fibrillation treatment. The team includes electrophysiologists, cardiac surgeons, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, medical assistants, and research coordinators. Our physicians are recognized experts who teach and proctor other practitioners in the field of atrial fibrillation ablation. We have been performing atrial fibrillation ablation since 1999 and have performed more than a thousand procedures, including the first cryoablation procedure in the state of Tennessee. Our specialists offer treatment from medical management to advanced intervention via catheter or surgical ablation and left atrial appendage occlusion. We offer advanced technology, comprehensive, individualized care, and experienced physicians.

Our physicians use the most up-to-date technology, therapies, and medications and work as a team to develop an individualized treatment plan. After completion of your atrial fibrillation treatment plan we will ensure a smooth transition of your care back to your primary care physician. If you have other medical problems besides AF, we'll work with your other doctors to make sure that you receive coordinated care.

For more information and to schedule an appointment with a Saint Thomas Heart electrophysiologist, please call 800.345.5016.

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