Atrial Fibrillation: What Is It and Why Is It a Problem?

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. It affects about 1% of the population. In this report, Dr. Lee Surkin, a cardiologist and sleep medicine specialist, explains what causes atrial fibrillation and how it can affect A Fib patients.

Dr. Surkin says that atrial fibrillation “is an irregular heart rhythm that originates from the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria.” The problem begins with the generator in the heart that produces the electrical impulses controlling the heart. This causes the atria to take over and generate irregular heart rhythms, a dangerous situation.

Dr. Surkin explains that the risk factors for developing atrial fibrillation include high blood pressure, heart disease of some sort, heart valve disease, thyroid abnormalities, heavy alcohol use, and obstructive sleep apnea. Patients with atrial fibrillation can have any of a number of symptoms. The most common ones are palpitation, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fainting or near fainting episodes.

One of the major risks of atrial fibrillation is the formation of a blood clot forming in the upper chambers of the heart. If the clot gets too large or becomes mobile, it will float down to the lower chambers of the heart and get pumped out into the bloodstream. The most direct route for such a blood clot is to the brain, causing a stroke. Other potential risks are heart attack or heart failure.

In order to prevent atrial fibrillation, a doctor must first determine what is causing it. Since high blood pressure is a major cause of the disease, a patient’s blood pressure must be monitored closely. Patients should see both their primary care physicians and cardiologists to have heart valve issues evaluated. Atrial fibrillation patients should also be screened for obstructive sleep apnea.

Dr. Lee Surkin, MD, FACC, FCCP, FASNC is a cardiologist in Greenville, North Carolina and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Martin General Hospital and Vidant Medical Center. He received his medical degree from Drexel University College of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He is board certified in Cardiology, Nuclear Cardiology and Sleep Medicine. He is the founder of the American Academy of Cardiovascular Sleep Medicine. The Health and Wellness Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.