Expert care for this common type of irregular heartbeat
Expert Heart & Vascular Care
Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our heart or vascular specialists.
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), in which the heart’s two upper chambers do not beat in sync with the two lower chambers. Our patients sometimes describe it as “feeling like there’s a fish jumping in my chest.”
A normal heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats a minute. If you have atrial fibrillation, your heart may beat much faster, up to 100 to 175 times a minute, or much slower.
Although AFib by itself is not life-threatening, it can increase your risk of stroke and heart failure if not treated. In fact, it causes about 20 percent of all strokes because blood pools in the heart chambers and clots form.
AFib is the most common type of arrhythmia, affecting more than 5 million people in the U.S.—a figure that keeps growing as the population ages. Our Cardiac Electrophysiology Program is a national leader in performing ablation procedures, such as cryoablation procedures, for AFib management. We also have the mid-Atlantic’s most experienced facility using the WATCHMAN™ device, which can prevent blood clots from forming and causing strokes in AFib patients.
What are the types of AFib?
There are four types of AFib:
- Paroxysmal: An irregular heartbeat that lasts less than seven days, usually less than 24 hours, and has recurred at least twice.
- Persistent: An irregular heartbeat that lasts longer than seven days, but the abnormal rhythm can be stopped with treatment.
- Permanent: An irregular heartbeat that lasts longer than one year and does not respond to treatment if it has been attempted.
- Lone: An irregular heartbeat that is paroxysmal or persistent and occurs without another form of heart disease.
What are the symptoms of AFib?
Many people with atrial fibrillation do not feel any symptoms. However, you may experience:
- Palpitations, or sensations of a racing heart or fluttering in your chest
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Confusion or anxiety
- Chest pain (angina) If you are experiencing severe chest pain, call 911 immediately.
- Fluid retention and swelling
- Heart failure
What are the causes and risk factors of AFib?
The most common causes are abnormalities or damage to the heart’s structure.
Certain factors can increase your risk of developing AFib, including:
- Age: 3 to 5 percent of people older than 65 and 10 percent of people older than 80 have AFib
- Congenital heart defects
- Coronary artery disease
- Excessive alcohol use
- Family history
- Heart valve problems
- High blood pressure
- Lung diseases, including pulmonary embolism
- Other arrhythmias, including atrial flutter and ventricular fibrillation
- Previous heart attack
- Previous heart surgery
- Sleep apnea
- Viral infections
- Other surgical procedures, dehydration, stress or caffeine may be a trigger in some patients
We are leaders in developing and using the latest procedures and technologies to treat heart rhythm disorders, and our cardiac electrophysiology laboratory is one of the most sophisticated in North America.
Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.
Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart and chest wall.
An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.
An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.
Electrophysiology testing is used to evaluate the cause and location of an abnormal heartbeat (known an an arrhythmia).
An event monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but where an electrocardiogram takes place over a few minutes, an event monitor measures heart rhythms over a much longer time.
A Holter monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but whereas an electrocardiogram records over a few minutes, a Holter monitor records over the course of a day or two.
A loop recorder is a device that’s implanted underneath the skin of your chest to record your heart rhythm for up to three years.
Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms and chemically induced stress tests.
Tilt table testing allows your doctor to determine the cause of explained fainting while monitoring changes in your blood pressure and heart rate while tilted at different angles.
One of the main goals when treating atrial fibrillation is to limit symptoms. This may be achieved through heart rate control or efforts to reset or control the heart’s rhythm. This often can be done with a combined approach of lifestyle modification, treatment of other conditions, medication or more advanced procedures.
Cardiac ablation uses heat or cold to destroy heart tissue causing abnormal heart rhythms known as arrhythmias.
Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that uses heat or cold to destroy heart tissue causing atrial fibrillation, a type of abnormal heart rhythm.
A surgical maze procedure treats atrial fibrillation (AFib) by creating a pattern, or maze, of scar tissue in the heart to disrupt faulty electrical signals causing your abnormal heart rhythm.
A pacemaker is a device that helps control various types of heart rhythm disorders.
Radiofrequency ablation uses extreme heat to destroy heart tissue causing an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation.