Atrial Fibrillation (a-fib)

What is Atrial Fibrillation (a-fib)? - Virtua Medical Service

Finding your Rhythm

Every beat of your heart delivers vital oxygen and nutrients to your cells. Atrial fibrillation (a-fib) is when your heart beats out of sync. If you have a-fib, your heartbeat is rapid and irregular and can’t pump as efficiently. This irregular heartbeat leads to symptoms that can leave you feeling tired and put you at a higher risk for stroke.

Our skilled team will help you track and manage your a-fib so you can get back to the normal rhythm of your life.

What is atrial fibrillation?

A-fib is the most common heart arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm). A storm of electrical signals in the heart’s top chambers (the atria) causes the heart to beat too fast or out of rhythm (fibrillation).

People with a-fib have a higher stroke risk. That’s because when your heart beats out of rhythm, blood clots can form in the heart. When those blood clots break loose, they can cause a stroke.

If you have atrial fibrillation, your doctor will talk to you about your stroke risk.

What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

Not everyone with a-fib has symptoms. That’s why it’s important to have regular checkups and to know your numbers. During an exam, your doctor will listen to your heart and ask how you’ve been feeling.

Some people with a-fib have these symptoms:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath during normal activities
  • Lightheadedness
  • Weakness/lack of energy
  • Chest discomfort

How is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?

A-fib is often found during a routine physical exam. Doctors also use ECGs (electrocardiograms) to diagnose it. ECGs show the heart’s electrical activity, including the irregular or erratic electrical signals that show atrial fibrillation. There are several other tests that your heart doctor may use to check for a fast or irregular heartbeat or other heart problems. These include:

  • Holter monitor
  • Cardiac event monitor
  • Echocardiogram
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

How is atrial fibrillation treated?

Our heart doctors (cardiologists) use a combination of proven treatments and new technologies to build a care plan that’s right for you. You are an important part of your care team, and we’ll work closely with you to answer your questions and make sure you understand your care plan.

If your heart races or beats erratically, your doctor may suggest medicine to help you regain or maintain your normal heart rhythm or to help control your heart rate. He or she also may talk to you about taking blood thinners (anticoagulants) to lower your stroke risk.

The goal of cardioversion is to restore your irregular heartbeat to a normal rhythm. Your cardiologist can talk with you about the best approach. This might include using medicine or an electrical cardioversion that uses low-voltage synchronized electrical shocks to the heart to re-synchronize your irregular heartbeat. Electrical cardioversion is a brief, outpatient procedure that’s typically effective, but that rarely cures the abnormal heart rhythm.

Catheter Ablation
Your doctor also might suggest treating you with a procedure called a catheter ablation.

This is a non-surgical, minimally invasive procedure that uses either radiofrequency (burning) or cryoablation (freezing) catheters to block the electrical signals that trigger a-fib. Catheter ablations are performed by highly skilled nurses and technicians in coordination with cardiologists in the electrophysiology lab of one of our partner institutions.

Make an appointment

If you have questions about your heart health, make an appointment with a Virtua heart care expert in South Jersey. Call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 (1-888-847-8823).

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