Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a heart problem that means you have an irregular heartbeat, accompanied by a fast heart rhythm.

The rhythm that is irregular is brought on by electrical impulses within the heart that are not normal. The heart can do this continually, or you can have spells where it might happen off and on.

The heart normally works with contractions which is an impulse that is electrical. This is through the right atrium.

Muscle contractions, (which is what your heart is), is what happens when these impulses are traveling through the atrium.

The atrioventricular node is where the impulses reach, which is where the 2 ventricles are of your heart. From that point, there is a hesitation, so that you can give the blood from your atria time to get into the ventricles.

This impulse will go on continually into the ventricles from there, with the actions continuing to cause contractions so that blood is pushed out of the heart as it is supposed to be. All of these actions, make up heartbeats.

People that have a normal heart pattern will have between from 50, but no more then 100 beats per minute. If the heartbeat is faster, this is considered too fast which in medical speaking is called tachycardia. On the other hand, if the heart is going below 50, it is then called bradycardia, which is too slow.

When you have atrial fibrillation, there are impulses, too many at once, that are all trying to run through the atria.

Other characteristics of AF are:

The contractions that are not organized in any way, are extremely fast, causing your atria to contract between 300 beats or many more each minute.

The AV node is effected as these impulses that are not regular hit very rapidly. The impulses naturally, will not all make it past the node as they should. This will cause slower beats in the heart ventricles, between 110 to 180 in a fashion that is not in sync as it should be.

A chest fluttering and pulse that is not in rhythm will happen.

There are many different ways in which atrial fibrillation can occur in the body. They would be:

Persistent This means that the irregularity occurs several times throughout the day and night, but will not go back to normal rhythm as it should. Only a doctor can put a stop to these episodes.

Paroxysmal which is intermittent You have AF at times, then your heartbeats go back into the normal rhythms. It can last from intervals of seconds, or maybe days.

Permanent You always have an AF problem, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To get the heart back into the rhythm it should be in cannot happen. Sometimes this is due to other medical reasons.

Is AF common? Yes, many people have this disorder. Sometimes the symptoms will do you no harm. You can have complications from it, but when treated correctly, it should not harm you.

Can you have this problem without other heart disease? Yes. Af is more common in people that are younger, and of whom have no other types of heart problems. The medical profession labels this as lone atrial fibrillation. Some of the causes for lone AF might be:

Too much caffeine

A thyroid problem that is usually overactive thyroid.

You have a blood clot in the lungs which is defined as pulmonary embolism.

Pneumonia makes you susceptible to this problem when the lungs are functioning abnormally from too much fluid build up.

If you have other cardiac conditions such as:


Cardiomyopathy or


So when do you need to get help for this problem?

You need treatment if the Atrial fibrillation comes and goes, or if the problem is making you pass out, or become short on your breath.

If the problem is going on and on, (becoming persistent), and you are getting symptoms that are worse with tiredness, see your doctor,

911 should be called if:

You can't breathe.

You have chest pains

You are fainting

You are weak or light headed

Your heart rates are very rapid and out of control.

What will a doctor do to confirm this problem?

Lab tests can confirm rule out other causes of atrial fibrillation. Your drug levels may be checked to be certain that there are enough of medications for atrial fibrillations in your system.

EKG's are helpful to confirm damages to the heart from atrial fibrillation.

24 Hour Heart Monitors are helpful to be able to tell just what exactly is going on with the impulses in your heart activity.

Complete blood cell counts can give the doctors clues for heart injury by this measurement as well as your heart medication levels in the blood such as Digitalis, for example.

Potassium levels may be looked at to see whether or not this is bringing on AF. Electrolytes imbalances can interfere with electrical impulses within the heart.

Echocardiograms can tell the doctor if you have an enlarged heart or not. This is a great test for a lot of heart problems and tells much more than an EKG or 24 hour monitor worn.

Extreme cases

In extreme cases of Atrial fibrillation, a pacemaker may be put in to regulate the heartbeats. Radiofrequency can be used with it, which in turn, makes the atria not connected to the ventricle. The heart is then completely blocked, making the heart rely on the pacemaker which is in the right ventricle.

Doctors can give medicines which do help control and regulate heartbeats. Beta-blockers often help to slow down the rate of the heart. It will reach the AV node, and slows down the conduction there. The heart is relieved of having to have more oxygen, and the blood pressure should become normalized.

Cardizem is a calcium channel blocking drug. It can help in the same way a beta-blocker does by slowing the heart rate, and lowering your blood pressure.

If blood clotting is a problem, blood thinners will be used such as Coumadin. It will prevent clotting of the blood that can happen with AF. This drug needs to be used with strict caution as it can have many unwanted side effects.