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News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation

 

Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib as it is often called, is an irregular and rapid heart arrhythmia that can increase risk of stroke, heart failure and other cardiac complications. Arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular manner.

AFib occurs when the upper and lower chambers of the heart are not in sync. This causes disruption in blood flow from the heart’s atria (upper right chamber) to the two lower chambers (ventricles). When the upper and lower chambers of the heart don’t work together, blood that is not pumped out of the atria may pool there.

It is estimated by 2030, 12.1 million people in the U.S. will be suffering from AFib. Because AFib probability increases with age, it is found more in women because they generally outlive men. Each year in the U.S., there are over 454,000 hospitalizations with AFib as the primary diagnosis. Two percent of AFib patients are under the age of 65.



Sometimes AFib episodes are brief, but it can be permanent. There are four primary types including paroxysmal atrial fibrillation which comes on without warning and stops as suddenly. This form of AFib clears up on its own between 24 hours and a week. AFib that lasts over a week is called persistent atrial fibrillation. If the condition continues for over a year, it is known as long-standing persistent atrial fibrillation. When it is perpetual, it is permanent atrial fibrillation.

AFib can sometimes lead to complications such as a stroke or heart failure. A major concern is the potential of developing blood clots within the upper chambers of the heart. These clots may then circulate to other organs which can lead to blocked blood flow called ischemia.




During an AFib episode, the heart receives electrical signals generated by the SA node. The primary function of the SA node is to act as the pacemaker of the heart. This is a small mass of specialized tissue that is located in the atria. Under normal conditions, the SA node generates an electrical stimulus 60 to 100 times per minute.

A variety of abnormalities can cause damage to the heart’s structure. High blood pressure, heart attack, coronary artery disease, abnormal heart valves, heart defects, an overactive thyroid gland, sick sinus syndrome and lung disease are just a few.

While some people with AFib don’t show symptoms, it can sometimes be diagnosed due to palpitations which are uncomfortable and feel like a flip-flop in your chest. Fatigue and weakness, as well as a reduced ability to exercise, are also alerts that something may not be right.

Similar to AFib is an atrial flutter which has a heart rhythm that is less chaotic. Medicine, or procedures such as an ablation (scaring a small area of heart tissue) can improve this condition.

If you suspect something isn’t as it should be, you should make a doctor’s appointment. If your physician suspects AFib or atrial flutter, the next step may be an electrocardiogram and then treatment.


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