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Atrial Fibrillation

Frequently Asked Questions

What is atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF)?

AF is an irregular, often rapid, heartbeat caused by chaotic electrical impulses in the upper chambers (atria) of the heart. It is the most common abnormal heart rhythm, affecting nearly 20% of people over age 70. Atrial fibrillation is often temporary, but some episodes won't end unless treated. 

What are the symptoms of AF?

AF is often felt as a sensation of abnormality, flip-flopping or fluttering in the heart.  Often that sensation is a palpitation (a rapid, strong or irregular heart beat) which may suggest abnormal heart rhythm.  Other symptoms may include:

  • Weakness
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

What is “silent” AFib?

In many cases atrial fibrillation is asymptomatic – meaning that a person doesn’t experience any symptoms at all. Because AFib can be “silent,” it’s important to get regular check-ups if you have risk-factors for like existing heart ailments, high blood pressure, being older, or sleep apnea. Getting regular physicals will help detect any subtle changes to your heart rhythm.  

Should I see a doctor if I have these symptoms?

Many people ask if they should go see a doctor for heart rhythm symptoms, even they’re not experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath. The answer is definitely yes. It’s important to get your symptoms checked out.

What causes AFib?

Nobody is quite sure why people develop atrial fibrillation. Because of this many specialists – including  The Erlanger Electrophysiology –  are conducting research to find answers.

However, we do know that certain risk factors and conditions are associated with AFib. If you have any of the following risk factors, it is important have regular check-ups that include evaluation of your heart health.

  • Having conditions that weaken the heart such as heart attack, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, thick or stiff heart tissue, leaking or narrowed valves, and congenital heart defects
  • High blood pressure
  • Infections that damage the heart muscle or the sac around the heart
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea, which can stress the heart because the heart doesn't get enough oxygen
  • An overactive or underactive thyroid gland (too much or too little thyroid hormone in the body)
  • Being older
  • Smoking

Why should I be concerned about atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is not generally life-threatening, however it can increase your risk of having a stroke. When the heart goes into atrial fibrillation, a portion of the heart called the left atrial appendage doesn’t move. When this happens, blood can pool, stagnate, and form a clot in that left atrial appendage. That clot can get ejected from the heart and go to the brain and cause a stroke.

AFib can also put stress on the heart muscle. This can lead to heart failure, a condition where the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

Erlanger Cardiology

Erlanger’s thought leadership in the research and treatment of Atrial Fibrillation attracts specialists from around the world who seek to study the latest techniques. Contact us to learn more about our electrophysiology team that treats all types of heart rhythm disorders.

Erlanger Medical Mall
979 East 3rd Street
Suite C-520
Chattanooga, TN 37403
AFib Center Hotline: 1-844-STOPAF1 (1-844-786-7231)