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Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib) is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. The condition can severely impact a person’s quality of life, causing heart palpitations, chronic fatigue and pain, in addition to increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. AFib affects nearly 3 million Americans, and the risk for developing the condition increases with age.

In a normal heart, the four chambers of the heartbeat in a steady, rhythmic pattern. AFib causes the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to quiver or twitch rapidly (fibrillate) in an irregular, disorganized rhythm. The atria may beat as often as 300 times per minute – about four times faster than normal.

When AFib occurs, instead of one electrical impulse moving through the heart, many impulses begin in the atria. This happens as a result of the structure of the heart and its electrical system changing over time as we age. As the electrical pathway changes during the aging process, one or more “triggers” may develop, causing the development of electrical circuits which send extra impulses to the heart muscle at a faster than normal rate. These extra electrical signals cause the heart to beat in a fast, disorganized and inefficient way, making it more difficult for blood to be pumped efficiently. With the blood supply moving more slowly throughout the body, the chances for a blood clot to form are increased. If a blood clot is pumped out of the heart and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.

AFib Risk Factors

AFib can develop in an individual for a variety of reasons and may affect patients differently. Risk factors include:

  • Age – The risk of developing AFib increases with age.
  • Heart disease – People with heart disease, including heart valve conditions, heart attack and heart surgery, have an increased risk of AFib.
  • High blood pressure – Having high blood pressure increases AFib risk. The risk is even higher if blood pressure is not well-controlled through lifestyle changes (diet, exercise) or medication.
  • Thyroid disease – Having thyroid disease increases the risk of developing AFib.
  • Sleep apnea
  • Alcohol use
  • Family history of AFib

AFib Symptoms

Patients experience symptoms differently. Many with AFib do not notice any symptoms, and others notice symptoms as soon as they occur. Symptoms can vary depending on age, the cause of the AFib and how much the pumping efficiency of the heart muscle is affected. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Irregular or rapid pulse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing or pounding heart, or fluttering in the chest
  • Difficulty performing everyday activities
  • Pain, pressure or tightness in the chest
  • Urinating more frequently

AFib Treatment

Summa Health’s comprehensive atrial fibrillation program recognizes the individual needs of each patient. Through a multidisciplinary team approach, our goal is to develop a personalized treatment strategy to effectively manage this condition. The Summa Health Atrial Fibrillation Program is designed to:

  • Improve the patient’s quality of life
  • Reduce the number of ER visits, hospitalizations and/or readmissions
  • Reduce the risk of adverse events and complications associated with complex medication regimens
  • Encourage patients to become an active partner with their physician as it relates to a treatment plan

During your initial visit, a Summa physician will take a medical history to help determine the severity of your symptoms and assess how other factors may be contributing to your condition. Initial treatment for many patients can include:

Alternate treatment may include Modified Maze or convergent procedures, or devices such as a:

If you are diagnosed with AFib or you have been experiencing symptoms, talk to your doctor about a referral to the Summa Health Atrial Fibrillation Program. 


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.