Atrial Fibrillation

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (often shortened to 'A-fib') is the most common of the heart 'arrhythmia' (abnormal heartbeat) conditions (see also SVT). Fibrillation means 'quivering' which affect the upper chambers (the 'atria') of the heart.

What causes Atrial Fibrillation?

It is not clear why atrial fibrillation occurs however in the majority of cases an electrical storm is known to originate from around the area where the pulmonary veins drain into the left atrium.

The following can lead to atrial fibrillation...

  • Alcohol
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure (over a long period of time)
  • Hyperthyroidism (where there is an overactive thyroid)
  • Injury to the chest
  • Surgery on the chest

Atrial fibrillation is also linked to high caffeine and it is thought some medicines and infections (eg pneumonia) may trigger the condition.

What are the symptoms of A-fib?

Sometimes A-fib has no symptoms at all, however some common symptoms include...

  • Difficulty breathing, especially during exercise
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Feeling an irregular heartbeat
  • Fatigue

Atrial Fibrillation can be occasional - referred to as 'sporadic' or 'paroxysmal', or it can be a permanent condition.

How is Atrial Fibrillation treated?

  • Medication - to control heartbeat rhythm and/or to prevent blood clotting
  • Cardioversion - application of a mild electric current to the heart to restore a normal rhythm
  • Ablation – to isolate the part of the heart that causes the irregular heartbeat (either heat or cold treatment)
  • Fitting a pacemaker - an electronic device to artificially control the heartbeat may be required to prevent slow heart rates
  • It may also be a good idea to reduce consumption of coffee and caffeine containing food and drink.