Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. During AF, the heart's two upper chambers (left & right atria) beat out of coordination with the two lower chambers (left & right ventricles) and symptoms often include heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness. AF may come and go (paroxysmal AF; PAF), or it can persist as a chronic condition. Although it is not immediately life-threatening, it is a serious medical condition that can sometimes require emergency treatment. AF can also lead to complications, such as the formation of blood clots which can block blood flow (ischemia). Treatments may include medications and other surgical interventions that aim to alter the heart's electrical conduction system.
Some patients with AF have no symptoms and are unaware of their condition until a physical examination takes place.
Those who do have symptoms may experience:
AF may be:
The heart consists of four chambers — two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). Within the right atrium is the sinoatrial (SA) node, the heart's innate pacemaker that produces the impulse that initiates each heartbeat. In atrial fibrillation, the atria experience chaotic electrical signals. The atrioventricular (AV) node — the electrical connection between the atria and the ventricles — is bombarded with impulses trying to reach the ventricles. The result is a fast and irregular heart rhythm. The heart rate of a patient with AF can range from 100 to 175 beats/minute. The normal range for a heart rate is 60 to 100 beats/minute.
Abnormalities or damage to the heart's structure are the most common cause of atrial fibrillation, for example:
Some patients with AF do not have any heart defects or damage, a condition called lone atrial fibrillation. In lone atrial fibrillation, the cause is often unclear, and serious complications are rare.
Certain factors that may increase the risk of developing AF include age, existing heart disease, high blood pressure, alcohol consumption, obesity, family history, and other chronic conditions
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