What Is Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib)?

Atrial FibrillationAtrial fibrillation is the most common irregular heart rhythm in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, about two million Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation. This irregular heart rhythm occurs when multiple circuits of disorganized electrical activity in the top chambers of the heart (the atria) replace the organized electrical activity that is normally generated by the heart. The result is “quivering” (or “fibrillation”) of the atria instead of regular heartbeats.

Although not directly life threatening, atrial fibrillation often produces a fast, irregular and ineffective heart rhythm that can cause a variety of symptoms, including chest pain, decreased blood pressure, weakness, lightheadedness and shortness of breath.

There are many conditions that can cause atrial fibrillation. The most common include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart surgery
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Alcohol use

Recently, it has been discovered that high-level athletes competing in endurance sports are at higher risk of developing this condition. Of note, the risk of atrial fibrillation increases with age, particularly after age 60. However, in at least 10% of cases, atrial fibrillation occurs without any identifiable cause or risk factor. This is called “lone atrial fibrillation” and can be successfully treated in many cases.

Atrial fibrillation was once thought to be a harmless condition, but we now know that it can contribute to additional heart problems over time, including stroke and heart failure. Only a few years ago, people suffering from this common heart arrhythmia were told they would probably have to live with the problem. Today, however, an increasing number of people with atrial fibrillation can be treated and cured, thanks to innovative therapies and procedures such as cardiac ablation, available through the Emory Heart & Vascular Center’s Atrial Fibrillation Program.

With sites at Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown and Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Emory’s Heart & Vascular Center has one of the few truly comprehensive atrial fibrillation treatment programs of its kind in the Southeast.

For more information about the Emory Atrial Fibrillation Program or to schedule an appointment, please call Emory HealthConnection℠ at 404-778-7777 or 1-800-75-EMORY.

About Dr. Lloyd

Michael Lloyd, MDMichael Lloyd, MD , began practicing medicine at Emory in 2007. He specializes in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology. His areas of clinical interest and research include arrhythmias in athletes, arrhythmias in young adults with congenital heart disease, atrial fibrillation and implantable devices for the treatment of heart failure. Dr. Lloyd is the program director for the Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship Program at Emory and holds organizational leadership positions with the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the Heart Rhythm Society.

About Emory’s Arrhythmia Center

Emory’s Arrhythmia Center is one of the most comprehensive and innovative clinics for heart rhythm disorders in the country. Our electrophysiologists have been pioneers in shaping treatment options for patients with arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, as well as for those with congestive heart disease. Our specialized electrophysiology (EP) labs host state-of-the-art equipment, including computerized three-dimensional mapping systems to assist with the ablation of complex arrhythmias, and an excimer laser system to perform pacemaker and defibrillator lead extractions.

Patients with devices, whether implanted at Emory or elsewhere, have access to Emory’s comprehensive follow-up care. Patients benefit from remote monitoring, quarterly atrial fibrillation support groups and 24-hour implantable cardiac device (ICD) and pacemaker monitoring services. Inpatient telemetry and coronary care units, as well as outpatient care and educational support of patients with pacemakers and ICDs, complete Emory’s comprehensive range of arrhythmia treatments and services.

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