doctor with stethoscope checking patient's heart

Arrhythmia refers to fast, slow, or irregular heartbeats. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is one of many different kinds of arrhythmias and is the most common form of heartbeat arrhythmia in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expect it to affect more than 12 million Americans by 2030.

Although AFib is common, many people do not know they are at high risk or that AFib causes the symptoms they are experiencing. Talk to your primary care physician (PCP), who can recommend you to an electrophysiologist for evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.


What causes AFib?

Your heart pumps blood throughout your body. Electrical impulses control the speed and regularity of your heartbeat and ensure the process occurs orderly. When something disrupts the process, it can slow or block the electrical signals and affect your heartbeat.


What are the risk factors associated with AFib?

Atrial fibrillation is a leading cause of stroke and may also be associated with heart failure, dementia, and shortened life expectancy, even if there are no or only subtle symptoms.

Conditions or factors that are associated with, or are causes of AFib, include: 

What are the warning signs of AFib?

Some people do not recognize the initial warning signs of AFib. Symptoms can come and go with varying frequency or become more noticeable as your condition worsens. In many cases, AFib is silent or asymptomatic.

AFib symptoms include:

  • Extreme fatigue (most common symptom of AFib) 

  • Chest pain

  • Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting

  • Heart palpitations, fluttering or pounding

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Low blood pressure

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. 


Do my heart flutters mean I have Afib?

Heart flutters are a symptom of Afib, but do not necessarily mean you have AFib. Stress, diet, exercise, smoking and other lifestyle habits can cause heart flutters. You should not dismiss heart flutters, which may indicate a more serious health condition. Talk to your doctor, who can rule out or diagnose Afib or other cardiac issues.

Read more about heart flutters.


How is AFib diagnosed?

Recording your heart rhythm on an electrocardiogram (EKG) or a monitor strip diagnoses AFib. If the irregular rhythm is persistent, an EKG will detect it as part of a routine evaluation with your doctor. However, AFib is often intermittent or paroxysmal (sudden recurrence or intensification of symptoms). In such cases, your physician may prescribe a wearable monitor like a 24-48-hour monitor, a 30-day monitor or an event monitor. 

Commercially available monitors, like smart watch monitors, may also detect AFib. AFib may be missed or misdiagnosed on these monitors, so your doctor must confirm the diagnosis. In addition to diagnostic tests, you and your doctor will also talk about family history, lifestyle habits and other health concerns you may have.


How is AFib treated?

The most critical goal of treatment for AFib is the prevention of stroke. Some patients will need prescription blood thinners. Another option for patients who cannot take blood thinners is an implantable device such as the WATCHMAN™or Amulet™.

Ablation is the most effective treatment for AFib. An ablation inserts catheters into the atrium of the heart via a small tube in a vein in the leg. Targeted and ablated critical areas prevent recurrent AFib.   

Medications are also an option to treat AFib. An electrophysiologist—a cardiologist specializing in arrhythmia—will help evaluate your options.  


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Comprehensive Care for AFib  

St. Francis Heart Centers, located across Long Island, provide convenient access to award-winning cardiac care. Our physicians are nationally recognized cardiologists who specialize in advanced diagnostics and treatment for AFib and other heart arrhythmias.

The Arrhythmia & Pacemaker Center at St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center® (Roslyn, NY) has been at the forefront of treating arrhythmia. It is consistently among the first to use new techniques. In West Islip, NY, the St. Francis Heart Center at Good Samaritan Hospital has two dedicated electrophysiology labs.

We offer a full range of treatment options, including pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, and minimally invasive surgical ablations. 

Find Care at Catholic Health

Find a Catholic Health doctor near you. Or call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362).

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