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Atrial Fibrillation FAQs 

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What is Atrial Fibrillation (or AF or A-Fib)?
Atrial Fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. Instead of the organized, predictable electrical impulse from the sinus node, multiple chaotic electrical signals originate all over the atria at a very fast rate, at about 300 - 600 per minute. The ventricles receive these signals and contract separately from the atria resulting in an irregular and usually fast heart rate.

A common heart rate for a patient with untreated atrial fibrillation is between 80 - 160 beats per minute. Since the atria quiver instead of contracting normally, the amount of blood pumped out of the heart with each beat is decreased.

What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
Patients with symptomatic atrial fibrillation typically experience palpitations, weakness, lightheadedness dizziness, fainting, fatigue, or chest discomfort. Some people are asymptomatic and have no symptoms at all.

What are the Causes of Atrial Fibrillation?
Normally, the heart's electrical signal travels down a specific path to initiate a contraction or "beat." Usually, atrial fibrillation is precipitated by something that damages or changes the structure of the heart. Here are some examples:

Coronary Artery Disease
Hypertrophy (enlarged heart)
Cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle)
Congestive Heart Failure
Pulmonary Embolus
Valve Disease
Excessive Alcohol Intake

How is Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosed?
The doctor will order an EKG to check for atrial fibrillation. If present, the tracing will have a chaotic, often fast and irregular rate. However, the EKG only shows what is happening with the heart at the time of the tracing.

Frequently patients spontaneously go in and out of atrial fibrillation, so the physician may want to follow a tracing for a longer period of time. Monitors can be worn for up to 30 days at a time to evaluate for paroxysmal (intermittent) atrial fibrillation.

Additionally, the patient may be scheduled for a cardiac catheterization if the doctor suspects coronary artery disease.

What are the Risks Associated with Atrial Fibrillation?
During atrial fibrillation, blood tends to pool as the atria quiver instead of contract in an organized way. This predisposes the patient to the formation of clots, which can dislodge and travel to the brain. Atrial fibrillation patients are at risk for stroke over patients without the condition.

Why Should I Be Treated at SHAC?
The Center offers an integrated program for the treatment of atrial fibrillation and other cardiac arrhythmias. The multi-disciplinary treatment team consists of cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, program navigators, nurse practitioners and support staff, all working together in the initial evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up management of the patient with atrial fibrillation.

What is the Care Process Like?
After initial assessment, the cardiac surgeon and cardiologist discuss the patient's history, physical exam and diagnostic testing to determine the multi-disciplinary treatment plan. The atrial fibrillation coordinator, a nurse practitioner will see the patient during the assessment as well as follow up to answer any questions and facilitate communication with the referring physician.

To contact the Center, call (757) 388-8020 (local) or (877) 210-0793 (toll-free)

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