Atrial Fibrillation

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation refers to an irregular and often rapid heart rate. When this occurs, the atria – the two upper chambers of the heart – are beating out of sync with the two lower chambers, called the ventricles. Atrial fibrillation is not a life-threatening condition by itself, but it can increase your risk of stroke and heart failure, especially if left untreated.

Patients with atrial fibrillation experience symptoms such as:

  • Heart palpitations (racing or irregular heartbeat)
  • Weakness and/or fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Chest pain 

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Testing and Diagnosis

If you experience symptoms of atrial fibrillation, see your doctor. After a physical examination, your doctor will probably recommend one or more of these tests:

Electrocardiogram (ECG) – In this test, electrodes are attached to your chest and arms with small stickers, which allows the ECG equipment to record your heart’s electrical systems. You’ve probably seen this test before; it results in a printout of your heartbeat as a zig-zag line on a graph.

Holter monitor – This is a small, portable version of the electrocardiogram, which you wear on a belt or shoulder strap for 24 hours or sometimes longer. It allows your doctor to see how your heart rhythms change over an extended period.

Event monitor – Like the Holter monitor, you carry this device with you, but you activate it to record your heart rhythms only when you are experiencing symptoms.

Echocardiogram – This test uses ultrasound technology to produce video images of your heart in motion. The technician will put some clear gel on your chest and move a probe through the gel to transmit sound waves. It is a non-invasive, painless test, using the same technology that doctors use to see babies in the womb.

Other tests your doctor may order include a stress test (an ECG while walking/running on a treadmill), a chest x-ray and blood tests.

Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation

If your doctor diagnoses you with atrial fibrillation, he or she may prescribe one of these treatments:

Electrical cardioversion – An electrical shock is given to your heart through paddles or patches applied to your chest (sedation is used during the procedure, so you would not feel the shock). If successful, the shock will reset your heart rhythm back to normal.

Cardioversion with medication – Usually done in the hospital so that your heart can be monitored throughout, this involves administering medications orally or intravenously to restore normal heart rhythm.

If a normal heart rhythm cannot be restored using cardioversion, your doctor may order an ablation, a minimally invasive surgical procedure.

Complex catheter ablation therapies are also offered at Covenant HealthCare to patients who have undergone other therapies that have failed.

Extraordinary Heart Care at Covenant

The Covenant Center for the Heart is the region’s leader for cardiac care, with a large, comprehensive team of board-certified cardiologists and heart surgeons. We have the first and most experienced Structural Heart Disease Program, world-class diagnostic technology and treatments, and the region’s only pediatric cardiologist. No one has more expertise keeping your heart healthy than we do.