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Atrial fibrillation is a rapid and irregular heart rhythm that originates from the top chambers of the heart called the atria. The rapid rate in the atria causes the bottom chambers of the heart, the ventricles, to also beat rapidly and irregularly. In a manner similar to other pumps, the heart pump does not work as efficiently as it should when it is beating rapidly and irregularly.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm problem. Nearly three million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation, and this number is increasing. While it usually occurs in patients who have other heart disease, it also is frequently found in patients who do not have heart disease. With increasing age, atrial fibrillation becomes more common, roughly doubling with each 10 years of life. In other words, three percent of people in their 60s, about six percent of people in their 70s and about 10 percent of people in their 80s will develop atrial fibrillation.
In many patients, an episode of atrial fibrillation will stop on its own, and this is termed paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. For other patients, the atrial fibrillation will not stop unless the patient is given a medication, called an antiarrhythmic medication, or an electrical cardioversion (an electrical shock to the heart) to interrupt the atrial fibrillation. This type of atrial fibrillation is termed persistent atrial fibrillation. In general, patients with persistent atrial fibrillation have a "tougher" variety of atrial fibrillation and tend to be less responsive to medications than patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.
There are many factors that can contribute to atrial fibrillation, including:
In nearly all patients with atrial fibrillation, a key cause of atrial fibrillation is electrical short circuits or abnormal electrical firings from within the heart. These rapid electrical firings can lead to an episode of atrial fibrillation. Using special electrophysiology catheters (catheters that record electrical signals from within the heart) it has been found that many of these electrical firings arise from within or near the pulmonary veins. The pulmonary veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the lungs back to the heart and join the heart in the left atrium.
Atrial fibrillation often causes symptoms such as:
Ohio State's Ross Heart Hospital has a specialized team of heart rhythm specialists, called electrophysiologists, and more than 100 nursing personnel who specialize in caring for patients with heart rhythm problems. Our electrophysiology program is the largest program in Ohio, and one of the top in the nation, with extensive experience in managing a wide spectrum of heart rhythm problems.
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