Atrial fibrillation

Effective treatment of atrial fibrillation often requires a multidisciplinary team effort. Our goals include restoring a normal heart rhythm whenever possible, relieving symptoms, improving patients’ quality of life, and reducing the risks associated with A Fib, including blood clots that may lead stroke.

Treatments range from lifestyle change, medications and follow-up care to implantation of medical devices, cardiac catheter ablation and specific open-heart surgical procedures. We will provide access to future clinical trials.

To enhance and complement treatment, we provide thorough patient education and offer additional resources.

Heart image showing SA node, AV node, right atrium, and left atrium

Atrial fibrillation is a condition in which the heart beats in an irregular pattern. It is caused by a problem in the heart's electrical pathways. It can be a sign of heart disease or other health problems that affect the heart.

Heart palpitations are the most common symptom of atrial fibrillation. This is the feeling that your heart is fluttering, beating fast, hard, or irregular. When the heart beats too fast, it doesn't pump blood very well. This can cause other symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, or fainting. Atrial fibrillation may come and go. It can last from a few hours to a couple of days. Or, it may become chronic, lasting for months at a time or even become permanent.

Atrial fibrillation may be caused by heart disease or other conditions in the body that affect the heart:

  • Coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis)

  • High blood pressure

  • Disease of the heart valves

  • Enlarged heart

  • Heart failure

Atrial fibrillation can also occur without heart disease because of:

  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroid)

  • Chronic lung disease (COPD, emphysema, bronchitis)

  • Heavy alcohol use

  • Cardiac stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills, certain decongestant cold medicines, caffeine, or nicotine

  • Infection

  • Blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolus)

  • Diabetes

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Obesity

  • Extreme athletic conditioning

Treating or removing these causes will help your treatment for atrial fibrillation. It will also make it less likely for the atrial fibrillation to come back.

Atrial fibrillation can alternate back and forth with another abnormal rhythm called atrial flutter. Atrial flutter is a more regular heart rhythm and is also associated with an increased stroke risk. Proper treatment can lower your risk for stroke.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Go back to your usual activities as soon as you are feeling back to normal.

  • If you smoke, stop smoking. Contact your healthcare provider or a local stop-smoking program for help.

  • Don't use stimulants like alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills, certain decongestant cold medicines, caffeine, or nicotine.

  • If your provider prescribed medicine to stop atrial fibrillation from coming back, take it exactly as directed. Some medicines must be taken every day, not just when you have symptoms. This will help them work as they should.

  • If you were prescribed warfarin to lower your risk for stroke, have your blood tested on a regular basis as advised by your provider. This will make sure you are getting the dose that is right for you. It also lower your risk for side effects.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these following occur:

  • Shortness of breath or swelling in the legs gets worse

  • Unexpected weight gain

  • Chest pain or the sense that your heart is fluttering or beating fast or hard (palpitations)

  • Any sign of bleeding if you are on a blood thinner 

  • Pain, redness, or swelling in one leg

Also call your provider right away if you have these signs of stroke:

  • Weakness of an arm or leg or one side of the face

  • Difficulty with speech or vision

  • Extreme drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, or fainting