Heart ‘flutter’ caused by faulty electrical signals to the heart

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, sometimes referred to as “flutter,” is when your heart beats rapidly and irregularly. It may occur for just a few seconds or it may last for several days. AFib is caused by a disruption of the electrical signals that tell your heart when to pump blood. This disruption may be as a result of coronary heart disease, diabetes, pericarditis, sleep apnea, or other related conditions.

The danger of AFib is that the fibrillation, or flutter, decreases the heart’s ability to pump efficiently by up to 30 percent. Because of this, blood clots can form in the left atrial appendage, where most stroke-causing blood clots form. If a blood clot breaks loose, it can travel to the brain, causing stroke.

People with AFib have a 5x greater risk of stroke.

Symptoms and diagnosis of AFib

As with many heart conditions, some people may have no symptoms until a significant cardiac or other health-related event occurs. In those who do have signs of atrial fibrillation, the symptoms may include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Needing to urinate frequently

Some people with AFib experience chest pain, which may signal a heart attack.

If you are experiencing chest pain, you may be having a heart attack. Be safe. Call 911.

Your doctor can diagnose atrial fibrillation by performing a complete physical examination and review of your medical history as well as your lifestyle behaviors, such whether you drink alcohol or caffeine, or smoke cigarettes. Certain tests may be ordered, including:

Depending on the severity of your condition and the outcome of the testing, your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan that may include medication, such as antiplatelets or anticoagulants (blood thinners), diet and lifestyle changes. In some cases, a surgical approach may be recommended.

To schedule an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.