Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm. During AFib, your heart may beat much faster than normal and cause your heart’s upper and lower chambers to communicate poorly. If they are not working properly, the lower chambers of your heart will not fill completely or pump enough blood to the rest of your body. 

Today, there are many at-home devices, like Apple Watches or Kardia monitors, which can detect AFib when it occurs. However, confirming the diagnosis may require more formal studies including an electrocardiogram (EKG) or Holter monitor. If you feel your heart beating faster or harder than normal, it is important to talk with your doctor to see if your condition may be related to an arrhythmia.

What are the Symptoms of AFib?

Episodes of AFib, like your heart beating fast, may come and go, or they may be persistent. Symptoms of AFib include:

  • Sensations of a fast, fluttering or pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

AFib also can cause your blood to pool and potentially form clots, and if a clot breaks loose, it can lead to a stroke. People with AFib are at a higher risk of experiencing a stroke compared to people with other health issues.

As you age, the risk for AFib increases. Other risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Thyroid problems
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Moderate to heavy alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Sleep apnea and other heart conditions

How is AFib Diagnosed?

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it is important to talk with your doctor to find out what could be causing these issues who may then refer you to a cardiologist. If it is AFib, it can be paroxysmal (or sudden), persistent or permanent and may require different forms of treatment. Treatments include medication, electro-cardioversion or a minimally invasive procedure called ablation.

The MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute offers the latest in advanced technologies to diagnose and treat AFib, including the WATCHMAN™ procedure. The WATCHMAN™ device is intended for patients with AFib who are at high risk for stroke and bleeding. The device is designed to close the left atrial appendage and prevent blood clots from entering the bloodstream. Over time, heart tissue grows over the device and it becomes a permanent part of the body. The benefit for patients receiving the WATCHMAN device is that it helps to reduce stroke and bleeding risk without the need for lifelong blood thinners. 

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