Atrial fibrillation (AFib)
If you experience flutters or irregular heartbeats, you may be one of nearly 3 million Americans living with atrial fibrillation, a common condition also known as AFib. Whether you enjoy chasing your grandchildren, gardening or a relaxing game of golf, our heart care specialists are here to provide you with the right diagnosis and treatment to get you back to enjoying the life you love.
What is atrial fibrillation (AFib)?
AFib is a common condition that causes your heart to beat irregularly (also called an arrhythmia). AFib can be mild to severe and can happen from time to time, or it can happen more frequently. No matter when or how often you experience symptoms, it’s important to see a heart specialist. Because of its effect on your heartbeat, AFib can interfere with your heart’s ability to pump blood effectively and can lead to congestive heart failure or stroke if left untreated.
What are the symptoms of atrial fibrillation?
When you experience AFib, you may feel:
- Fluttering or rapid heartbeat (heart palpitations)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
You can live a healthy, active life with mild atrial fibrillation. However, if your symptoms worsen or begin to happen more frequently, it is important to have your AFib treated to reduce your risk for stroke or heart failure.
AFib risk factors
If you have heart problems such as heart disease, heart valve disease or heart failure, you may be more likely to have AFib. Having other medical conditions such as long-term lung disease (COPD), overactive thyroid, obesity, or sleep apnea also increases your risk of developing AFib.
How is AFib diagnosed?
To diagnose AFib, your doctor will discuss your symptoms, review your medical history and perform tests to check the electrical activity in your heart. Tests to diagnose AFib may include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – This non-invasive test uses small sensors attached to your chest and arms to record your heart’s electrical activity.
- Holter monitor – A holter monitor is a heart rhythm monitor you'll wear anywhere from 24 hours to 4 weeks that records your heart’s activity. This device helps your doctor monitor your heart’s rhythm.
- Blood tests – Diagnostic blood tests can rule out issues with your thyroid, liver or kidneys.
- Chest X-ray – An X-ray allows your doctor to see the condition of your lungs and heart to potentially rule out other causes of your symptoms.
- Echocardiogram – With this test, a wand-like device that is placed on your chest uses sound waves to create a video of your heart working.
- Stress test – A stress test helps asses blockages in your heart that could affect your AFib treatment.
AFib treatment options
When it comes to treating atrial fibrillation, your heart care team will provide the right treatment to help your heart maintain a normal rhythm and prevent blood clots, which will reduce the risk of stroke. Treatment options may include:
If your AFib is unable to be successfully managed through less-invasive treatment options, such as medication or a catheter ablation, your heart doctor may recommend surgery.
Our heart surgeons use the latest techniques to treat heart conditions, including minimally invasive surgery, to offer you the best outcomes and path for healing. Our surgeons are highly trained and board certified, which means they have passed an optional national exam to demonstrate their medical expertise. Many of our surgeons are also fellowship trained, holding additional training in specific types of cardiac surgery. We routinely perform complex procedures that are often unavailable elsewhere in the area.
Your doctor may recommend prescription medications to help manage your symptoms and treat your atrial fibrillation. This may include medications to control your heart’s rhythm or slow it down, or blood thinners (anticoagulants) to prevent blood clots and stroke.
AFib care at Geisinger
Our heart team is here to provide you with compassionate care and the most advanced heart treatments available. We offer the latest, minimally invasive procedures for both diagnosing and treating atrial fibrillation.
Quicker recovery and less time in the hospital means more time for you to do the things you love with those you love. We offer:
- The knowledge you need – Your heart team includes electrophysiologists, cardiac surgeons, doctors, heart specialists and nurse practitioners with years of training and experience in the treatment of heart rhythm conditions. Their expertise has been honed by treating many people with AFib every year. And their focus is on delivering the care best suited to your needs.
- Excellent care where you live – With locations throughout central, northeast and south-central Pennsylvania, our experienced heart team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system.
- Heart rhythm treatments – From complex, exclusive and minimally invasive surgery options to national clinical trials and genetic testing, our heart specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care in convenient locations, so you don’t have to travel far.
- Genetic testing and counseling programs – Special research programs such as MyCode® are only available at Geisinger. Participating in MyCode allows you to contribute to genetic research. By participating, some may receive information about their own genetic risks. Learn about MyCode.
- Dedicated Anticoagulation Clinic: Those taking blood-thinning medications (called anticoagulants) for AFib, have the opportunity to work with our experienced team in our Anticoagulation Clinic. This dedicated team is focused on keeping you safe, healthy and helping you manage your treatment.