Atrial fibrillation, also known as abnormal heart rhythm or
atrial flutter, is a heart rhythm disorder involving a rapid
heart rate. In cases of atrial fibrillation, the two upper
chambers of the heart, called atria, contract in a very
disorganized and abnormal manner.
The heart has four chambers. Normally, they contract in a very
specific, coordinated way, guided by electrical impulses that
originate in the sinoatrial node - the heart's natural pacemaker.
When a problem occurs along this electrical conduction system,
various arrhythmias may occur, including atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation can affect both men and women. It becomes
more common with increasing age.
Learn more about Atrial Fibrillation
Individuals may not be aware of an abnormal heartbeat, especially
if it has been happening for some time. Symptoms include:
- Pulse that feels rapid, racing, pounding, fluttering or too
- Pulse that feels irregular
- Palpitations, a sensation of feeling the heart beat in the
- Shortness of breath while lying down
- Dizziness, light-headedness
A health care provider should be consulted if symptoms of atrial
fibrillation or flutter are present.
Atrial fibrillation can be caused by alcohol use, especially
binge drinking. It can also be caused by
congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, heart
surgery, high blood pressure (hypertension), hypertrophic
cardiomyopathy, medications, an overactive thyroid gland
(hyperthyroidism), pericarditis or valvular heart disease.
Atrial fibrillation can cause fainting, heart failure, stroke or
At Texas Health, we have advanced diagnostics to help us
understand individual conditions and plan a course of treatment.
In certain cases, atrial fibrillation may need emergency
treatment to get the heart back into normal rhythm. This
treatment may involve defibrillation or IV medication.
Long-term treatment varies depending on the cause of the atrial
fibrillation or flutter. Medications to slow the heartbeat may
include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, anti-arrhythmic
medications and blood thinners.
Some patients with atrial fibrillation, rapid heart rates and
intolerance to medication may need a catheterization procedure
called radiofrequency ablation.
Texas Health is committed to providing quality care to heart
and vascular patients throughout North Texas and beyond. While
various technologies and services are discussed here, not all of
our hospitals offer every treatment and diagnostic technology
highlighted. Call 1-877-THR-WELL to learn more about heart and
vascular services at a Texas Health hospital near you.