Atrial fibrillation is a very common type of irregular or uneven heartbeat. When you experience an episode of atrial fibrillation your heart will often beat too fast. While many people do not realize they have AFib, others describe feeling fluttering or palpitations in their chest. Atrial fibrillation rarely requires urgent medical care and many people live healthy, normal lives.
AFib is common in people with high blood pressure or those who have had a previous heart attack or issues with their heart valves. Other people can develop AFib due to problems with their thyroid gland or because of certain lung problems. People with sleep apnea can often have AFib and sometimes AFib will appear after you have undergone a surgery. If you have AFib, you will most likely come to the hospital through the Emergency department after feeling a fluttering heartbeat or palpitations. Occasionally, some patients are diagnosed with this condition following a routine ECG exam or after another surgery.
An irregular heartbeat can cause blood to pool in your heart and form a blood clot. If a blood clot breaks loose, there is a risk that it could travel to your brain and cause a stroke. Thankfully, strokes are rare and there are medications that can lower your risk for stroke. For example, anticoagulant medications (blood thinners) are used to lower your risk of stroke. If you would like more information about KGH's stroke program, please click here.
AFib can be treated with medications that either slow down your heart (rate controllers) if it beats too quickly, or help your heartbeat switch back into normal rhythm (rhythm controllers). Sometimes your doctors may suggest electric cardioversion to ‘shock’ your heart back into a normal rhythm. This is a brief procedure that is done, using sedation, by specialists in a highly monitored environment.
If you need to be admitted to the hospital because of atrial fibrillation, it will be because you are probably feeling “palpitations” or “fluttering" in your chest. This will be done so that you can be monitored by health care teams. Your length of stay in the hospital will depend on your symptoms and your body’s response to medication, but it will likely last only one-to-two days. While you are in the hospital, you may be visited by a nurse practitioner who specializes in AFib.
Click here to learn more about Atrial Fibrillation from the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canada.