Atrial Fibrillation (AF)

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is one of the most common sustained heart rhythm disorders or arrhythmias. In AF the electrical activity in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) become chaotic, leading to an irregular heartbeat that is often rapid. AF can also present itself as a very slow heart rate leading to fatigue and in some cases, pauses between beats can be prolonged and lead to dizzy spells. In the UK, AF affects around 800,000 people, and is most common in those over 55 years of age and in those patients with high blood pressure or other types of heart problems. Despite this, in some patients the cause of AF is not clear. When atrial activity is chaotic, blood flow through the heart is reduced, leading to stagnation and possible clot formation. The formation of these clots in patients with AF puts them at a significantly increased risk of a stroke. The risk of a stroke can be reduced with blood thinning drugs (anticoagulants).


What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation presents itself in many different ways. The most common symptoms are palpitations, which are often rapid and irregular. Patients may also feel tired, dizzy, short of breath or experience chest pains. In some patients, there are no symptoms and the discovery of AF is an incidental finding. Atrial fibrillation can lead to symptoms and can alter prognosis and therefore needs treatment to control and to reduce the risk of a stroke.



What assessment do I need if I have atrial fibrillation?

If atrial fibrillation is suspected, your cardiologist will need to confirm the diagnosis and this can be done with a simple electrocardiogram (ECG) if the rhythm is persistent. In many cases, atrial fibrillation comes and goes (paroxysmal) and in order to make the diagnosis, longer periods of ECG monitoring are needed with Ambulatory ECG Monitoring (a heart monitor which is worn for 1 or more days). An echocardiogram, referred to as an 'echo', is also undertaken to look at the structure and function of the heart in some detail. In many patients, additional tests will also be required to identify the underlying cause. One of the most important aspects of your assessment will be to assess your individual risk for a stroke to determine whether you will benefit from blood thinning medication (anticoagulants). Your cardiologist will be able to discuss this in some detail with you.


What are the treatments for atrial fibrillation?

There are a number of different approaches to the treatment of atrial fibrillation that can be tailored to your individual circumstances. All patients need an assessment of their stroke risk and placed on appropriate treatment as needed. There are essentially three strategies to treat AF - Medication, Cardioversion or Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Catheter Ablation. Click on the links below to find out more.

  • Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Catheter Ablation

    Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Catheter Ablation is an invasive procedure that offers the prospect of an improved quality of life. It involves the insertion of catheters, or fine wires, into the heart through the veins at the top of the leg. [READ MORE]

  • Atrial Flutter Ablation

    This procedure blocks the electrical signals that cause a fluttering heartbeat and restores sinus rhythm. [READ MORE]

  • Atrioventricular (AV) Node Ablation

    This procedure prevents faulty electrical impulses being sent within the heart. [READ MORE]

  • Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing (CPET)

    This test shows how the heart, lungs and muscles react when exercise is undertaken. [READ MORE]

  • Cardioversion

    This treatment aims to return an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) to a normal pattern. [READ MORE]

  • CTCA Scan & Calcium Score

    This scan is used to ascertain the risk of a heart attack or stroke within the next 5-10 years. [READ MORE]

  • Echocardiogram (TTE)

    An 'echo' is an ultrasound scan of the heart to assess structure and function. [READ MORE]

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) Test

    An ECG is a simple test that looks at the electrical activity of the heart. [READ MORE]

  • ECG Holter Monitoring

    This monitoring measures the electrical activity of your heart over a longer period than an ECG. [READ MORE]

  • Electrophysiology (EP) Study

    This study analyses the heart's electrical activity and is used to diagnose the cause of abnormal heartbeats. [READ MORE]

  • Event recording, 1-6 weeks

    Monitors are used to provide a prolonged record of a heart’s operation and symptoms. [READ MORE]

  • Implantable Loop Recorder (ILR)

    This device records a heart’s rhythm continuously for up to two years. [READ MORE]

  • MRI Scan / CMR Scan

    These scans enable cardiologists to view detailed images of the heart’s anatomy. [READ MORE]

  • Pacemaker & Implanting a Pacemaker

    This is an artificial device that is implanted in the chest to regulate an abnormal heartbeat. [READ MORE]

  • Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) Ablation

    This procedure helps block the electrical signals that cause an abnormal rapid heartbeat. [READ MORE]



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