Yasmine Ali, MD, is board-certified in cardiology. She is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and an award-winning physician writer.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by extremely rapid and chaotic electrical impulses originating in the heart's atria (the two upper cardiac chambers).
While atrial fibrillation is not itself life-threatening, it often causes significant symptoms, including palpitations, shortness of breath, and easily becoming fatigued. It can lead to more serious problems, especially stroke, and—in people with heart disease—worsening heart failure.
Diagnosing atrial fibrillation requires recording an electrocardiogram during an episode of atrial fibrillation. Several treatment options are available for this heart condition, but choosing the best one is not always straightforward.
Binge drinking and possibly, moderate alcohol intake, may trigger atrial fibrillation. Caffeine intake does not appear to be a trigger; although, some doctors still recommend that patients with atrial fibrillation avoid or limit its use.
There are many potential causes of atrial fibrillation, like having a certain heart birth defect or a health condition that damages the heart's electrical system, such as coronary artery disease or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart lining). Noncardiac conditions, such as a blood clot in the lung or hyperthyroidism, may also cause atrial fibrillation.
There is no single drug of choice for atrial fibrillation. Instead, treatment regimens—which may include a heart rate control medication, an antiarrhythmic drug, a blood-thinner to prevent clots, and lifestyle changes—are individually chosen based on factors like the severity of a patient’s symptoms or the frequency of their atrial fibrillation episodes.
Yes. The term “heart disease” encompasses a wide range of conditions, including cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) like atrial fibrillation. Other types of heart disease include coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, and heart failure.
An electrocardiogram, also called an ECG or EKG, is a diagnostic tool that evaluates the heart's electrical system. By examining ECG wave patterns, a doctor can determine a person's heart rate and rhythm and possibly identify certain types of heart disease.
A heart arrhythmia, also called cardiac arrhythmia, is caused by a disturbance in the heart's electrical system, making a person's heartbeat too fast, too slow, or in an irregular rhythm. Atrial fibrillation is an example of a heart arrhythmia.
Heart failure (also called congestive heart failure, or CHF) is a condition in which the heart is unable to sufficiently pump or fill with blood. As a result, patients may experience trouble breathing, fatigue, and leg swelling. Heart failure can be acute, meaning it develops suddenly, or chronic, which means it develops over a long period of time.
A heart palpitation is an awareness or sensation of skipped, fast, strong, or irregular heartbeats. While heart palpitations are common, most are not dangerous. That being said, since they may be a sign of an underlying health disorder, evaluation by a medical professional is warranted.
January CT, Wann LS, Calkins H, et al. 2019 AHA/ACC/HRS Focused update of the 2014 AHA/ACC/HRS guideline for the management of patients with atrial fibrillation. Circulation. 2019;140(2). doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000665
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