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Welcome to HealthiNation. I'm Dr. Preeti Parikh.
If you're one of the more than two to three million Americans with Atrial Fibrillation,
you may know that the condition itself isn't life threatening, but "AF" or "AFib"
as it's sometimes called, can lead to serious problems if not properly treated. In these
videos, you'll learn more about this most common form of an irregular heartbeat, its
most likely causes, and some ways your doctor may test for it. There's also a lot to know
about treatment and prevention, so stay with me and we'll go through this important information
Atrial fibrillation is the most common kind of sustained cardiac arrhythmia (or abnormal
heart rhythm) in developed countries. It's an irregular and often rapid heartbeat. To
give you an idea of what we're talking about, the normal range for a heartbeat is between
60-100 beats per minute. With AF, it can be as high as 100-175 beats per minute!
In order to understand AF, you need to know some basics about the heart's structure.
Your heart has four chambers: two upper ones are called Atria and the two lower chambers
are called ventricles. The upper right chamber of the heart called the right atrium contains
a group of special cells called the sinus node. The sinus node creates the electrical
impulses that drives the heart's beating, like a "natural" pacemaker.
In a normal heart, each electrical impulse begins in the sinus node, travels through
the atria, causing them to contract, sending blood into the ventricles. The impulse then
continues through a connection between the atria and the ventricles (called the atrioventricular,
or AV node, and then down into the venticles, also causing them to contract, which sends
blood out of the heart to the body.
What happens during AF is the sinus node sends out irregular signals that make the atria
beat chaotically. As the frenzied signals continue towards the ventricles, the AV node
gets overloaded, causing the ventricles to also beat chaotically and out of sync with
the atria. The overall result is an irregular heartbeat with poor blood flow through the
heart and out into the rest of the vascular system. Blood that gets "left behind"
in the atria due to this poor synchronicity can pool and sometimes clot. Clots can then
break away, travel up to the brain or other parts of the body and cause life-threatening
Some people with AF don't experience any symptoms and the AF is only discovered during
a physical exam or a stress test. Others can have a range of AF symptoms. These include
heart palpitations - which can feel like your heart is racing, "flip-flopping" or skipping
beats. For those who sense it, AF can feel vaguely uncomfortable or outright painful.
Other symptoms may include trouble breathing, lowered blood pressure, lightheadedness or
dizziness ,confusion, and weakness or fatigue. If you're experiencing chest tightness or
pain, seek help immediately because it could be AF, or something else, like a heart attack.
For some people, AF comes and goes on its own. That's called "paroxysmal". For
others, the abnormal rhythm continues for at least several days and doesn't usually
stop without treatment so it's called "persistent" or, if it lasts even longer, it's called
Regardless of the particular AF classification, it's important to understand what the risk
factors for AF are so you can stay in sync with good health.