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Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia), affecting more than 2 million people nationwide. It occurs when the atria, or upper chambers of the heart, fail to beat in a synchronized manner. As a result, the heart doesn't squeeze normally. In many patients with atrial fibrillation, the heart beats too quickly.
Atrial Fibrillation: What You Need to Know
You can prevent recurrent spells of atrial fibrillation by:
- Drinking less or no caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
- Talking with your doctor about over-the-counter (OTC) medications:
- Those that contain pseudoephedrine, which acts as a stimulant, can trigger atrial fibrillation
- Some OTC medications can have dangerous interactions with anti-arrhythmic medications
We are fully committed to providing a caring, personal approach to every patient and family we see. We spend as much time with you as you need - answering all your questions and working together to develop a treatment plan that works for you.
Experienced, Trusted Expertise
At The University of Vermont Medical Center, we are proud to be among a select group of medical centers able to provide the highest level of care to patients with atrial fibrillation. Our specially trained heart rhythm team includes internationally recognized experts, several of whom were recruited from the world-renowned Cardiac Arrhythmia Research Institute, a center on the frontiers of heart rhythm care.
Atrial Fibrillation: Managing Your Symptoms
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Normally, the heart beats in a strong, stable rhythm. In patients with atrial fibrillation, a problem with the heart's electrical system causes the two upper parts of the heart, the atria, to quiver, or fibrillate.
The quivering upsets the normal rhythm between the atria and the lower parts of the heart, the ventricles. And the ventricles may beat fast and without a regular rhythm.
Atrial fibrillation is dangerous because if the heartbeat is irregular blood can collect, or pool, in the atria. Pooled blood is more likely to form clots. Clots can travel to the brain, block blood flow and cause a stroke.
Atrial fibrillation can also lead to congestive heart failure. Your atrial fibrillation may be occasional (paroxysmal atrial fibrillation) where your symptoms may come and go, last for a few minutes to hours and then stop on their own. Chronic atrial fibrillation is when your heart rhythm is always abnormal.
Atrial fibrillation symptoms include:
- Heart palpitations, which feel like a fluttering or flopping in your chest or a racing, pounding or uneven heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Decreased blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Passing out (fainting)
Several factors can increase your risk of developing atrial fibrillation, including:
- Age: Risk increases as you age
- Family history: Parent, brother or sister with atrial fibrillation
- Heart disease, heart attack or heart surgery
- High blood pressure
- Chronic medical conditions such as thyroid problems or sleep apnea
- Drinking alcohol, particularly a large amount at one time (binge drinking)
Diagnosis and Treatment: Atrial Fibrillation
Learn more about atrial fibrillation diagnosis and treatment.