Atrial fibrillation (AFib of AF), the most common type of arrhythmia, occurs when many different electrical impulses fire at once. This creates a very fast, chaotic rhythm in the atria, and as a result, the atria can’t contract and/or squeeze blood effectively into the ventricle. With AFib, blood may pool in the heart. AFib is more common in people who are over 65 and is seen more often in men than women.
Over time, the chaotic rhythm can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure and stroke.
risk factors for atrial fibrillation
There is no one “cause” of atrial fibrillation, although it is associated with many conditions. Certain factors may increase your risk of developing an arrhythmia or AFib. These include:
- Narrowed heart arteries, a heart attack, abnormal heart valves, prior heart surgery, heart failure, cardiomyopathy and other heart damage
- High blood pressure
- Congenital heart disease
- Overactive or underactive thyroid gland
- Taking certain over-the-counter cough and cold medicines and certain prescription drugs
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Caffeine or nicotine use
- Sex – men are more likely than women to develop AFib
treatments for atrial fibrillation
- Rate control medications
- Rhythm control medications
- Anticoagulants – medications given to decrease blood clotting
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
- Cardioversion – uses a medication or electric current to reset the heart rhythm
- Catheter ablation – a minimally invasive procedure that cauterizes the exact heart regions where irregular heart rhythms originate
- Surgical ablation – a procedure performed through incisions in the chest to remove or destroy the abnormal tissue that is causing the arrhythmia. This is often combined with other heart surgeries such as coronary bypass surgery or valve repair or replacement.
- Convergent (hybrid) ablation – a procedure that is a treatment alternative for atrial fibrillation patients who have failed other ablations or who have an enlarged atria, which is often indicative of structural heart disease.
For some patients, ablation therapy is the first-line or primary treatment option.
This safe and effective minimally invasive procedure is performed in an outpatient setting, requires no cardiac rehabilitation and yields a fast recovery. Ablation uses state-of-the-art technology to map electrical signals in the heart and determine the exact regions of the heart where irregular heart rhythms originate. Radiofrequency energy or extreme cold is then used to destroy irregular cells, thus restoring a normal heart rhythm. During catheter ablation, a specialized catheter is inserted into a vein and guided to the problem area of the heart muscle. Catheter ablation often cures AFib and other arrhythmias by interrupting the path of abnormal electrical impulses. At the Bon Secours Heart Rhythm Center, ablations are performed in the hospital’s specialized cardiac catheterization laboratory by highly trained, board-certified electrophysiology cardiologists.
Those who should consider ablation therapy include patients who:
- failed medication treatment in the past
- are still experiencing symptoms
- have had adverse reactions to medications
- chose to not use medication therapy
- have failed cardioversions in the past