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Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, the most common type of arrhythmia, is a serious condition that causes an irregular, and often fast, heartbeat. This makes the heart pump blood less effectively, weakening the heart and potentially leading to blood clots, stroke or congestive heart failure.

Atrial fibrillation can be caused by a number of factors, including heart disease, high blood pressure and heart attack.

Rush offers an atrial fibrillation clinic where electrophysiologists focus exclusively on diagnosing and caring for this common heartbeat irregularity. These doctors closely monitor patients and help them reduce risk factors so hearts can maintain a healthy rhythm.

Types of atrial fibrillation

There are three types of atrial fibrillation:

  • Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: This type of atrial fibrillation comes and goes on its own and may occur for a few seconds or over a period of several days.
  • Persistent atrial fibrillation: Persistent atrial fibrillation continues until the patient receives medical treatment.
  • Chronic atrial fibrillation: Chronic atrial fibrillation is permanent and can’t be helped by treatment.

People with chronic conditions, such as sleep apnea, diabetes and asthma, have a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation than people who do not have these conditions.

Atrial fibrillation symptoms

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation may include the following:

  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Tiredness

Care for atrial fibrillation at Rush

Most patients with atrial fibrillation can be successfully treated with medications and live normal, active lives.

Treatment for atrial fibrillation focuses on restoring normal heart rhythm, controlling the heart rate, and preventing blood clots and strokes. Specialists with the Atrial Fibrillation Clinic at Rush offer the full spectrum treatment options, including the following:

  • Lifestyle modifications, such as eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking, can improve your overall heart health.
  • Medications may be used to regulate your heartbeat. The most commonly used types of medications for the treatment of atrial fibrillation are antiarrhythmic drugs, calcium channel blockers, beta blockers and anticoagulants.
  • Watchman device, an alternative to blood thinner medications (e.g., warfarin) for people with non-valvular AFib (atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem). Watchman is a permanent heart implant that can lower the risk of stroke compared to lifelong use of warfarin.
  • A cardiac pacemaker or cardiac defibrillator, small devices placed inside the chest or abdomen, may be used to bring the heart back into normal rhythm. These devices allow patients to live active lives with the freedom of not being tied to a large machine. Data from these devices can now be transmitted wirelessly from patients' homes.
  • Cardiac ablation is a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure. A physician uses a catheter through a vein or artery in the leg to reach the heart and correct the tissue in the area of the heart that is not performing properly. Electrophysiologists at Rush were among the first in Illinois to perform ablation using the HeartLight Endoscopic Ablation Systemwhich allows them to see inside a beating heart while delivering laser energy during ablation. This enhanced visualization means surgeons can more accurately pinpoint and apply laser heat to the precise area where the extra electrical signals are being produced. Ultimately this advantage may reduce the likelihood that a patient will need a repeat ablation procedure.
  • Mini-Maze surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that can potentially cure atrial fibrillation. Through tiny incisions, surgeons create scar tissue that allows the heart to resume beating normally.
  • VASCADE MVP is a vessel closure device that helps patients to get back on their feet in as little as two hours — rather than the typical recovery period of six to 10 hours — after cardiac electrophysiology procedures such as cardiac ablation for atrial fibrillation. The shorter recovery period with the VASCADE MVP device also typically means less pain medication is required after an ablation. Rush is the first hospital in Illinois to offer this innovative device.

Why choose Rush for atrial fibrillation care

  • Expertise you can trust. Specialists at the atrial fibrillation clinic, part of Rush's Electrophysiology, Arrhythmia and Pacemaker Program, are dedicated to diagnosing and treating atrial fibrillation, including participating in clinical trials for new therapies and procedures that are improving care.
  • Advanced monitoring. Rush offers wireless monitoring of pacemakers and defibrillators. With wireless monitoring, your doctor will be alerted quickly if your heart rhythm changes and requires a medication adjustment.
  • State-of-the-art treatments. Our experts are dedicated to helping patients lead longer, healthier lives. That's why they are leading the way in bringing the latest treatment innovations for atrial fibrillation to patients — from leadless pacemakers and His bundle pacing, to VASCADE MVP, a vessel closure device that dramatically reduces the recovery period after cardiac electrophysiology procedures such as catheter ablation. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition

Frank Butera, who had a cardiac ablation, describes his care at Rush University Medical Center wi

Kousik Krishnan, MD, explains how the WATCHMAN device can be used as an alternative to blood thin

Kousik Krishnan, MD, explains how a procedure called catheter ablation can help patients with atr