Get answers to your Arrhythmia questions.
Auricular fibrillation; A-fib
Atrial fibrillation/flutter is a common type of abnormal heartbeat in which the heart rhythm is fast and irregular.
Normally, the four chambers of the heart (two atria and two ventricles) contract (squeeze) in a very organized way, so the heart can pump all the blood the body needs without working too hard.
The electrical impulse that signals your heart to contract begins in the sinoatrial node (also called the sinus node or SA node). This node is your heart's natural pacemaker.
In atrial fibrillation, the electrical impulse of the heart is not regular. The atria contract very quickly and not in a regular pattern. This makes the ventricles beat abnormally, leading to an irregular (and usually fast) pulse. As a result, the heart cannot pump as much blood as the body needs.
In atrial flutter, the ventricles may beat very fast, but in a regular pattern.
If the atrial fibrillation/flutter is part of a condition called sick sinus syndrome, the sinus node may not work properly. The heart rate may alternate between slow and fast beats. As a result, there may not be enough blood to meet the body's needs.
Atrial fibrillation can affect both men and women. It becomes more common as you get older.
Other causes of atrial fibrillation include:
Lafuente-Lafuente C, Mah I, Extramiana F. Management of atrial fibrillation. BMJ. 2009;b5216.
Dobrev D, Nattel S. New antiarrhythmic drugs for treatment of atrial fibrillation. Lancet. 2010;375:1212-1223.
Crandall MA, Bradley DJ, Packer DL, Asirvatham SJ. Contemporary management of atrial fibrillation: update on anticoagulation and invasive management strategies. Mayo Clin Proc. 2009;84:643-662.
Noheria A, Kumar A, Wylie JV Jr., Josephson ME. Catheter ablation vs. antiarrhythmic drug therapy for atrial fibrillation: a systematic review. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:581-586.
Fuster V, Ryden LE, Cannom DS, Crijns HJ, Curtis AB, Ellenbogen KA, et al. 2011 ACCF/AHA/HRS focused updates incorporated into the ACC/AHA/ESC 2006 Guidelines for the management of patients with atrial fibrillation: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines developed in partnership with the European Society of Cardiology and in collaboration with the European Heart Rhythm Association and the Heart Rhythm Society. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;57:e101-198.
© 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). All rights reserved.
UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System,
22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. TDD: 1-800-735-2258 or 1.866.408.6885