Atrial Fibrillation

An illustration of an EKG recording.Also called AFib, atrial fibrillation is a rapid, irregular heart rate that can disrupt blood flow throughout the body. In a healthy heart, the two upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, beat in sequence with the two lower chambers, called the right and left ventricles. In a patient with AFib, the atria beat faster than and out of sync with the ventricles.

BayCare offers a variety of cardiovascular services and programs at our hospitals throughout the Tampa Bay area, including state-of-the-art diagnostic facilities and treatment centers for atrial fibrillation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to an estimated 6.1 million people in the United States suffer from atrial fibrillation.

For more information on AFib, listen to our podcast with Dr. Rodrigo Bolaños.

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

AFib can cause shortness of breath, heart palpitations, decreased blood pressure, confusion, chest pain, weakness, or lightheadedness. AFib can be occasional, lasting for minutes or hours at a time, or chronic. In some patients, the condition causes no obvious symptoms. Left untreated, AFib can lead to stroke or heart failure.

Suspect you or someone you love has a heart rhythm disorder like AFib? For a referral to a cardiac specialist, call us at (855) 233-0888 for a physician referral or fill out the form to request a referral.

How is Atrial Fibrillation Diagnosed?

Any of the above symptoms are cause to seek an AFib diagnosis from your doctor. Diagnostic testing may include an electrocardiogram (ECG), an echocardiogram, blood tests, a chest X-ray, Holter monitoring, event monitoring, telemetry monitoring or electrophysiologic testing (EP studies).

Causes of Atrial Fibrillation

Some people are born with abnormalities that cause AFib, while others develop the condition due to high blood pressure, heart attacks, overactive thyroid glands, emphysema, sleep apnea, or previous heart surgeries. AFib may begin as a less serious heart arrhythmia called atrial flutter.

What Are The Treatment Options for Atrial Fibrillation?

The treatment of AFib has three goals: (1) control of symptoms, (2) stroke prevention and (3) treatment of the underlying risk factors.Treatment will depend largely on the severity of your condition and its underlying cause. Cardioversion (resetting your heart’s rhythm) may be possible through medication or electrotherapy.

A physician holds the WATCHMAN deviceOther treatments may include electrophysiology procedures (EP) like cardiac ablation or, in certain cases, surgery like Maze treatment or a hybrid ablation procedure.

Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke Risk

Because the atria are beating rapidly and irregularly, people with AFib are at high risk of stroke, as the irregular beating can cause abnormal blood flow that can lead to the development of a blood clot. If the clot is pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain and result in a stroke.

WATCHMAN: A New Treatment Option

In people with AFib not caused by heart valve problems, more than 90% of stroke-causing clots that come from the heart are formed in the left atrial appendage (LAA), a thin, sack-like appendix attached to the heart. The WATCHMAN device, which resembles a mini umbrella, is an implant designed to permanently act as a barrier to prevent LAA blood clots from entering the blood stream and blocking a blood vessel in the brain causing a stroke.

WATCHMAN is an alternative treatment option for people with AFib to reduce the risk of stroke. Learn more about the device.

A cardiac electrophysiologist can recommend the best treatment method for AFib given your condition and other factors.

Need a cardiac electrophysiologist or other cardiac specialist? Call us at (855) 233-0888 for a physician referral or fill out the form to request a referral to a cardiac specialists. 

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