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    Atrial Fibrillation: A Heart Off Beat

    By By Geri K. Metzger, Staff Writer
    October 03, 2012, 7:13:59 AM EDT

    Atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, is an abnormal heart rhythm. In A-fib, the heart's upper chambers (atria) quiver rather than beat in the coordinated manner needed to pump blood efficiently.


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    When the atria don't pump effectively, blood can pool and form clots there. If a blood clot breaks loose and travels in the blood vessels to the brain, it can cause a stroke. People with this condition are about five times more likely to have a stroke than people without it. One of the goals of treatment for A-fib is to reduce the risk for stroke.

    A-fib can also trigger the lower heart chambers to beat too fast. When the lower chambers can't pump effectively, it can lead to heart failure.

    Atrial fibrillation is often a result of underlying heart disease or high blood pressure. It can sometimes develop without a known cause. This is called lone atrial fibrillation.

    What are the symptoms? Atrial fibrillation may cause no obvious symptoms. Some people have symptoms such as:

    -Heart palpitations
    -Fatigue
    -Lightheadedness, fainting (syncope), or near-fainting
    -Shortness of breath
    -Chest pain

    In some people A-fib comes and goes (paroxysmal). In others, it's chronic or persistent.

    How is atrial fibrillation treated? Treatment for atrial fibrillation may depend on:

    -How long you've had it
    -If it's the first time you've had it
    -Your symptoms and the cause
    -How fast the heart is beating
    -What other medical problems you might have

    Sometimes the heart resets itself, or treatment of an underlying condition such as hyperthyroidism cures it.

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