Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

What is atrial fibrillation?

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.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

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. 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.

    Cardiac Catheterization

    In cardiac catheterization (often called heart catherization), a very small hollow tube, or catheter, is advanced from a blood vessel in the groin or arm through the aorta into the heart.

    Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) Device

    Left atrial appendage closure (LAAC) devices such as Watchman and LARIAT offer some patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation an attractive alternative to anticoagulants like warfarin.

    Pacemaker Implant Surgery

    A pacemaker is a small implantable device that sends low-energy electrical signals to the heart to correct abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) or to minimize heart “quivering.”

    Pacemaker/ICD Lead Extraction or Revision

    Sometimes, pacemaker and ICD leads stop working properly due to damage or scar tissue accumulation. Infections can also develop at the site of a lead. In these cases the lead needs to be removed and/or replaced.

    Maze Procedure

    At Lankenau, maze procedure is a highly effective treatment for patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib), is often done minimally invasively with robotic assistance with the goal of interrupting the electrical impulses responsible for the chaotic heart rhythm.


    If you have an arrhythmia your doctor may recommend cardioversion, a painless procedure that “resets” your heartbeat to a normal rhythm.