Many are familiar with the phrase “My heart skipped a beat,” and for patients with Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), this can have a more literal meaning. Atrial Fibrillation, is a heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, which can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

AFib affects the top two chambers of the heart (the atria), causing the blood pushing from the heart to pump inefficiently. Because the atria are not moving blood properly, blood pools and often gets stuck, leading to clotting. If clots are pushed into the brain, it can result in an ischemic stroke.

AFib is the most common heart rhythm disorder in the nation and in Eastern Kentucky. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports more than 454,000 hospitalizations with AFib as the primary diagnosis each year in the United States. The CDC also estimates the condition contributes to about 158,000 deaths each year, a number that has been steadily rising for more than two decades.

Some people have AFib but do not possess the knowledge to recognize the symptoms, which include irregular heartbeat, palpitations, lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain.

AFib can lead to heart failure and stroke, primarily because AFib’s irregular heartbeat leads to ineffective pumping of the blood, which may weaken the heart over time. In addition, studies show one in four strokes in patients over the age of 40 are caused by AFib.

Atrial Fibrillation is commonly treated with medication but sometimes require surgical interventions. Common causes of AFib include high blood pressure, heart failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and more. It is always recommended to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly and attend frequent check-ups at a primary care provider.