Atrial fibrillation, also called AF or A-Fib, is one of the most common irregular heart rhythms. AF is an abnormality of the electrical system of the heart. It is a rapid beating of the upper chambers of the heart, which prevents the heart from pumping blood adequately to the lower chambers.
A healthy heart beats between 60 and 90 times per minute. When the heart is in AF it can beat, or fibrillate, up to 500 times a minute. Because the heart is beating so fast and irregular, the heart's pumping action does not work properly. When the pumping does not function correctly, the blood will not completely empty from the chambers. This can make the blood more likely to pool and to clot.
If a clot is pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke. People who have AF are five times more likely to have a stroke than people who do not have AF.
There are many risk factors that contribute to the development of atrial fibrillation. Some of them are:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Chronic lung disease
The prevalence of AF increases with age, from less than one percent of those younger than age 60, to roughly one in every ten persons aged 80 years or older.
People who suffer from atrial fibrillation may experience heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, faintness, and mild to severe chest pains. Many patients also experience feelings of weakness or fatigue, caused by the heart's diminished pumping ability.