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Approximately 2.7 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation. It is the most common type of heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that can interrupt the normal flow of blood. This interruption means the condition puts you at risk for blood clots and stroke. Atrial fibrillation may be temporary, may come and go, or may be permanent. However, with regular medical care, you can live a normal, active life.
The heart contains four chambers: two atria and two ventricles. Atrial fibrillation occurs when these chambers do not work together as they should because of faulty electrical signaling. Normally, the atria and ventricles contract at the same speed. In atrial fibrillation, the atria and ventricles are out of synch because the atria contract very quickly and irregularly. Atrial fibrillation is often referred to as sick sinus syndrome because the sinoatrial (sinus) node in the right atrium controls the electrical impulses.
The cause of atrial fibrillation is not always known. Conditions that can cause damage to the heart and lead to atrial fibrillation include:
The following factors increase your risk of atrial fibrillation:
The following might increase your risk:
You might not experience any symptoms if you have atrial fibrillation; however, you might experience one or more of the following:
Your doctor may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose atrial fibrillation:
You might not need treatment if you do not have symptoms, if you do not have other heart problems, or if the atrial fibrillation stops on its own. If you do require treatment, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:
Your doctor might also recommend treatment for underlying health conditions, such as a thyroid problem or heart disease, that might be causing atrial fibrillation.
Most cases of atrial fibrillation can be managed or treated; however, atrial fibrillation tends to reoccur and get worse over time. The most common complications of atrial fibrillation are strokes and heart failure. If you have atrial fibrillation, you are five times more likely to have a stroke than people who do not have atrial fibrillation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You can reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation by doing the following:
Written by: Rose Kivi and Marijane Leonard
Published on: Aug 16, 2012
Medically reviewed : George Krucik, MD
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