Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB)

Last Updated: June 20, 2018

Definition - What does Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB) mean?

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia, or abnormal heart beat. Atrial fibrillation (AF) occurs when the electrical signals that control the heart's beating malfunction.

The beating of the heart is controlled by electrical signals that begin in the upper right chamber of the heart and then passes to the left. When the heart contracts rapidly and irregularly, it is said to fibrillate. Atrial fibrillation (AF or AFIB) is so named because the electrical malfunction that triggers AFIB's irregular heart beat originates in the atria or upper chambers of the heart.

Atrial fibrillation does not always cause symptoms. Some symptoms that a person may experience during AF are palpitations or a rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, or physical weakness.

An electrocardiogram (EKG) is usually performed to confirm suspected atrial fibrillation. Treatments following diagnosis may include medication or physical interventions to restore a regular heart rhythm. Untreated, the condition can increase a person's risk of stroke, heart attack, or heart failure.

Atrial Fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia. The condition is sometimes referred to as AFIB, a shortening of the full name.

WorkplaceTesting explains Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB)

When atrial fibrillation occurs, blood that is supposed to pass from the heart's upper chambers into the lower chambers, or ventricles, can pool in the upper chambers. If the condition isn't persistent, a person may not notice the symptoms of AF. In other cases, particularly for patients with underlying heart conditions, AF can trigger a life-threatening condition called cardiogenic shock as the heart fails to deliver blood sufficient throughout the body. Insufficient blood flow to the brain, resulting in brain cell death, is referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) and may also occur.

Individuals with existing heart disease are at higher risk for developing AFIB. Conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart valve disorders, or inflammations of the muscles of the heart or its lining are all risk factors. Between 5% and 40% of coronary bypass patients experience AFIB following their surgeries. For healthy individuals, stress and fatigue, particularly when combined with excessive caffeine or alcohol, can trigger AFIB. Electrolyte imbalances and drug use may also put a person at risk for atrial fibrillation.

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