What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of heart arrhythmia.
AFib is a rapid and irregular heartbeat that occurs when electrical signals that regulate the heartbeat become erratic. Instead of beating regularly, the upper chambers of the heart quiver and blood doesn’t flow well.
An estimated 2.7 to 6.1 million Americans – including 9 percent of those over age 65 – have AFib, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include heart palpitations, lightheadedness, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain. AFib increases a person’s risk for stroke by four to five times.
Loyola’s multidisciplinary team of leading cardiac electrophysiologists, cardiologists, advanced practice nurses, technical staff, imaging experts and other professionals allow Loyola to tailor therapy to each patient to reduce risks of future heart issues, eliminate symptoms and improve overall quality of life.
Why Choose Loyola for Atrial Fibrillation Management?
Loyola’s cardiology and heart surgery program is nationally recognized for the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm conditions. We work with you to help you understand your condition and develop a treatment plan that is right for you.
Loyola has the largest atrial fibrillation management program in Chicago. Our heart rhythm specialists are frequently at the forefront of new technology innovations for the treatment of patients, including magnetically guided catheter ablation, cryoablation and clinical trials.
Symptoms and Signs of Atrial Fibrillation
Patients with atrial fibrillation may have no noticeable symptoms, or only feel them occasionally. In general, patients with AFib may notice:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially chest pain, make an appointment with your doctor for proper diagnosis.
Causes and Risk Factors of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is caused by the conduction of irregular impulses to the ventricles (lower chambers) of your heart that generate your heartbeat. While a healthy heartbeat is directed by the heart's sinoatrial node (located within the upper right chamber of your heart), atrial fibrillation is caused when these normal impulses are overwhelmed by abnormal impulses from the upper chambers of the heart (atria) and pulmonary veins. This leads the atria to quiver (fibrillate).
- Age: your risk increases as you get older
- Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, lung disease or chronic kidney disease
- Congenital heart defects
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- Family history of AFib
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Viral infections
Problems in the left atrial appendage, or LAA, may also cause AFib. The LAA is a small, thumb-sized pouch located in the upper left chamber of the heart. In patients with a normal heartbeat, the LAA squeezes with the rest of the heart, ejecting blood with each beat. But in patients with AFib, the appendage no longer rhythmically contracts, creating a sluggish blood flow that can cause blood to pool and clot. Blood clots can then travel to the brain and cause strokes. Removing the LAA also may reduce the risk of future AFib recurrences.
Tests and Diagnosis for Atrial Fibrillation
To fully understand the root cause of your atrial fibrillation, doctors at Loyola will conduct a complete physical exam, which may include additional cardiac tests:
- Catheter-based testing
- Heart stress test
- Holter monitoring and event recording
- Transseptal cardiac catheterization
Throughout the diagnostic process, Loyola is committed to your compassionate care.
Treatment and Care for Atrial Fibrillation
Loyola has the largest atrial fibrillation management program in Chicago and is committed to developing a comprehensive treatment plan that is right for you. In addition to medication management, doctors at Loyola are skilled at the following surgical procedures to treat atrial fibrillation:
- Catheter ablation
- Lead extraction and lead management
- Magnetically guided catheter ablation
- Pacemaker implantation
Loyola also offers several treatment options designed to address issues with AFib and the left atrial appendage:
WATCHMAN: A permanent implant designed to close the left atrial appendage. The WATCHMAN device is implanted percutaneously (through the skin) in Loyola’s electrophysiology (EP) lab, guided into the LAA of the heart by our highly skilled team of electrophysiologists, advanced practice nurses, technical staff and imaging experts. Once the WATCHMAN is in place, a thin layer of tissue grows over it in about 45 days. This keeps blood clots in the LAA from entering the bloodstream.
Lariat: A minimally invasive catheter-based procedure that treats atrial fibrillation by using two catheters to tighten a loop of suture material – similar to a lasso – around the base of the left atrial appendage. In this procedure, the left atrial appendage is sealed off from the rest of the heart so the heartbeat can return to normal.