Atrial fibrillation starts in the atria (the top chambers of the heart). The atria beat very quickly and irregulary. The ventricles also beat irregularly, but not as fast as the atria. When you take your pulse it will feel like your heart is skipping or adding beats.
What is Atrial Flutter?
Atrial flutter starts in the atria. The atria beat faster than the ventricles (the bottom parts of the heart). Your heart beat may or may not be regular when you take your pulse.
What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?
Many times, it may not be possible to find a cause.Some possible causes of atrial fibrillation may be some types of heart disease, stress, anxiety, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, diet pills, or certain prescribed and over-the-counter medications (check with your doctor) and ccasionally, open heart surgery.
What are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?
You may experience one or more of the following symptoms with your arrhythmia: fluttering feeling in the chest, abnormal and/or irregular pulse (heart beat), lack of energy, faint feeling and/or dizziness, chest pressure or discomfort and possibly shortness of breath.
What if Atrial Fibrillation is Left Untreated?
If left untreated, these arrhythmias could cause a blood clot to form in the heart. This blood clot can travel through the blood stream to the brain or stay in the heart and cause a stroke or heart attack.
Because the heart is not working as well as it should in this irregular rhythm you may experience problems.
What is the Testing for Atrial Fibrillation?
In some cases, these arrhythmias are found when the doctor listens to your chest with a stethoscope. Other tests are usually required (especially if the arrhythmia comes and goes).
Resting EKG - records the heart's electrical activity while at rest.
Exercise EKG Stress Test - records the heart's electrical activity while you exercise.
24 Hour Holter EKG - a portable tape recorder monitors your heart's activity over a 24 hour period while you continue routine activities. If changes in your heart rhythm occur they will show up on the recording.
Telephone Monitoring - a portable recorder is carried for several days/weeks. Your EKG can be sent over the telephone when you feel symptoms related to your arrhythmia (palpitations, dizziness, etc.)
What is the Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation?
If the cause of the arrhythmia is known, it is important to first treat the cause. Treatment may involve one or more of the following:
Medications to try to change the arrhythmia to the normal sinus rhythm
Anticoagulants (blood thinners like coumadin) will usually be needed to prevent blood clot formation.