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Atrial Fibrillation

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Cardiac fibrillation can occur in the atria of the heart or the ventricles of the heart. Atrial fibrillation is a chronic condition that can be managed and corrected with minimally invasive surgeries. Alternatively ventricular fibrillation is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately.

Atrial fibrillation, known as AFib, is an extremely common condition and is the most common kind of irregular heartbeat. It is estimated that as many as 80% of people over 80 years old have atrial fibrillation, but people as young as 30 can begin to develop the condition as well. AFib is not a life-threatening condition but can increase the risk of other potentially fatal conditions such as stroke and heart attack.

During an atrial fibrillation episode the upper chambers of the heart contract irregularly causing a fluttering feeling in the chest. This interruption of the heart’s normal rhythm can cause blood to pool and potentially clot.  These clots make individuals with AFib up to 5 times more likely to have a stroke.

Symptoms

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation can vary significantly from person to person, as the condition can be constant or can come and go. Some people exhibit no symptoms, while others develop symptoms that do not go away.

When present, the most common symptom is an irregular heartbeat that feels like a flutter or flopping feeling in the chest. It can also feel like a rapid heartbeat, palpitations or a thumping in the chest. Other symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness, loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Shortness of breath when sleeping or lying down
  • Sweating or clod sweats

Please note, if you or someone you know is experiencing chest pain, you should seek immediate care as it may be a sign of a heart attack. 

Causes and Risk Factors for Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation can co-occur with other chronic conditions, but it can also occur in patients with no known heart defects or impairments.

Some factors that can increase your likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation may include:

  • Aging
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Patients of previous heart surgery
  • Pulmonary dysfunction, such as emphysema and asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Tobacco use

Treatment Options

Your cardiothoracic surgeon can recommend the best treatment options for you based on the results of diagnostic testing. Depending on the severity of your atrial fibrillation and the frequency of symptoms, treatment options can range from medication to surgery that will normalize the heart’s rhythm. The maze procedure interrupts the superfluous electrical impulses that disrupt the heart’s normal pattern. Alternatively the AtriClip surgery prevents clots from forming by installing a device into the area of the heart where clots most commonly develop. Learn more about the AtriClip, maze and mini-maze procedures in the Procedures We Perform section of this site.

If you have additional questions about fibrillation please contact the Cardiac Surgery Associates of Tampa online or by phone at 813.910.0027.