Published on October 10, 2012

Is your heart jumpy? It might be atrial fibrillation, the most common cause of strokes


By Anthony Magnano

Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm and the leading cause of stroke in the United States.

In fact, Afib sufferers may be up to five times more likely to have a stroke. Afib causes a rapid and disorganized heartbeat that occurs in the upper chambers of the heart (the atria). During an Afib episode, the atria may beat between 350 and 600 times per minute, compared with the normal 50 to 100 beats per minute, making that segment of the heart appear to quiver or fibrillate.

Often, the exact cause of Afib is difficult to determine, but there are certain risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, alcohol use, congestive heart failure, heart valve problems, thyroid disease and sleep apnea.

Common symptoms of the condition include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, palpitations, irregular heart beat, chest discomfort or dizziness

Some people with Afib have mild symptoms, with the condition being discovered during a routine physical exam or electrocardiogram.

Atrial fibrillation can occur in two main varieties. intermittent atrial fibrillation, often called “paroxysmal,” starts and stops on its own. “Persistent” atrial fibrillation is constant and typically only stops when interrupted by a medication or medical procedure (called a cardioversion).

Because Afib is so prevalent, particularly in those 60 and older, it is important to make every effort to prevent the condition. This includes a healthy lifestyle, maintaining normal body weight, as well as identifying and controlling conditions that put you at risk. Nevertheless, we see patients who develop atrial fibrillation despite leading a very healthy lifestyle.

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