Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a type of arrhythmia that can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, or other heart-related complications. When a patient experiences AFib, the electrical signals that control the atria’s beating pattern become defective. This disrupts the blood flow to the ventricles and the lower chambers, causing the blood pool and clot in the atria.
Atrial flutter is also a common form of arrhythmia that is similar to AFib. However, with atrial flutter, the beating pattern is more organized and less chaotic than the frenzied patterns of atrial fibrillation.
Patients with AFib or atrial flutter can be asymptomatic. Those who do experience symptoms often report the following:
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain or pressure
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
To diagnose AFib or atrial flutter, your doctor will use one or more of the following diagnostic procedures:
Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG). A simple, non-invasive test is used to measure the electrical current or wave that flows through your heart.
Echocardiogram (Echo). A noninvasive test that uses sound waves to assess the heart’s functions and structures.
Holter monitor. A wearable device that measures your heart activity for 24 to 48 consecutive hours.
Event recorder. A wearable device that monitors your heart activity often for a longer period of time than a Holter monitor (7-30 days). In some patients where a rhythm diagnosis is critical, implantable event monitors (Implantable loop recorder) will be placed than can monitor the heart rhythm for up to 4 years continuously.
Blood tests. These tests can check for other possible causes of a heart rhythm problem, such as thyroid disease.
The treatment for AFib and atrial flutter is designed to restore normal rhythm to the heart and cure the disorder that causes arrhythmias. This can often be accomplished through medication. Surgery or a pacemaker may also be necessary for some instances.
If you are experiencing atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, talk to your doctor about treatment options today.