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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.
  • 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 the first in Chicago to do cardiac ablation using the Sensei Robotic Catheter, a system that enables them to treat abnormal heart rhythms with greater precision.
  • 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.

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.

Departments and programs that treat this condition