Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation, Medical • 30 Nov 2011

First specifically described in 1874 in dog hearts, atrial fibrillation affects both the young and the old. However, eight percent of people over 80 years of age are affected with atrial fibrillation. This typically non-life-threatening condition involves having an irregular and often rapid heartbeat.

What It Is

The, atria, the two upper chambers of the heart, do not beat in a normal pattern in people with atrial fibrillation, and they beat out of synch with the lower ventricles of the heart. People who have atrial fibrillation report shortness of breath, weakness and heart palpitations. Atrial fibrillation can also result in chest pain, fainting or congestive heart failure. It also leads to a higher risk of stroke in some atrial fibrillation patients as blood may clot in the upper atria of the heart.


Atrial fibrillation can result in episodes that come and go. These episodes can last minutes to weeks. People with chronic atrial fibrillation experience symptoms more often and regularly. Complications can result from atrial fibrillation, but it typically is not fatal. However, it is a serious medical condition, and people with atrial fibrillation sometimes need emergency assistance. Chronic atrial fibrillation is often the natural result of having atrial fibrillation for a long period of time.


Medications and other interventions are used to treat atrial fibrillation with the goal of changing the heart’s electrical system. Drugs are used to slow the heart rate or return the heart rhythm to a normal pattern. Medications are also used to protect against strokes. Synchronized electrical cardioversion is another treatment. Some people can get permanent relief from atrial fibrillation from surgical or catheter-based interventions.

Associations with Other Conditions

Atrial fibrillation may happen in otherwise healthy hearts. The absence of P waves and an irregular ventricular rate on an electrocardiogram indicate atrial fibrillation. Some associations to other conditions include high blood pressure, lung diseases, primary heart diseases, too much alcohol intake, carbon monoxide poisoning, and hyperthyroidism.

Atrial fibrillation can be treated most of the time, and treatment can result in a better quality of life. Different therapies, surgeries and medications can help patients get back their normal heart rates and to perform activities they previously enjoyed.

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