The Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

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Filed Under: Heart Health, Arrhythmia
Last Reviewed 02/16/2014

The Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

One of the top cardiovascular problems I receive questions about from my readers is the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AF). That’s not a surprise since more than 2.2 million Americans have this cardiovascular problem.  

But there’s two things you need to understand if you have AF…

  1. Uncontrolled symptoms of atrial fibrillation (episodes longer than 24 hours, or extremely high or low heart rates) can place a considerable strain on your heart.

  2. There’s also a risk that blood clots may form—which can lead to the most dreaded complication of atrial fibrillation: stroke.

Understanding Atrial Fibrillation and its Symptoms

So, what exactly is AF? It's a type of arrhythmia, or irregularity of the heartbeat—it’s one of the most common cardiovascular problems. It originates in the left or right atria, the two upper pumping chambers of the heart. 

Normally, the atria fill with blood and contract, propelling this blood into the heart's two larger, lower chambers the ventricles. The right ventricle contracts and ejects this blood to the lungs, where it is re-oxygenated. The blood then returns to the left atria where it is pumped to the left ventricle, and then the aorta, circulating oxygen-rich blood throughout your body.

What happens with the symptoms of atrial fibrillation is the heart’s normal electrical "pacemaker" is bombarded by competing electrical charges, which originate in the atria—hence the name, atrial fibrillation. 

These competing impulses initiate chaotic muscle contractions, so instead of contracting forcefully to move the blood out, the atria quiver or "fibrillate." This can cause a loss of up to 30 percent of the "atrial kick" that contributes to the blood output of the heart, and can send heart rates up to 230 to 250 beats per minute!

What’s the cause of this common cardiovascular problem?  AF has many causes including aging of the conduction system, enlarged atria and inflammation of the heart muscle following cardiac surgery.

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