Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Normally, your heart’s electrical system controls the rhythm at which your heart beats. See illustrations of the heart and its electrical system.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Normally, your heart’s electrical system controls the rhythm at which your heart beats. See illustrations of the heart and its electrical system.

In atrial fibrillation, abnormal electrical impulses cause the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to fibrillate, or quiver, resulting in irregular and rapid beating of the ventricles, the heart’s main pump.
As a result, the heart pumps less efficiently, reducing blood flow to the body and to the heart muscle itself. For most people, this aspect in itself is usually not life-threatening.

However, people with atrial fibrillation are at increased risk for life-threatening strokes, especially if they are not taking anticoagulant medications. Inefficient pumping of the atria allows blood to pool and clot there. If these clots are pumped out of the heart and into the bloodstream, they can lodge in the brain’s blood vessels, resulting in a stroke.

In addition, if the heart rate is fast and uncontrolled over a long period, this can damage the heart and lead to heart attack and heart failure.

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