Dr. Upadhayay and patient

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm. Roughly 150,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and as many as 5 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is characteristically identified by a rapid, erratic pulse originating in the upper heart chambers. During atrial fibrillation, the heart beats too fast, resulting in a lower blood flow to the body and a higher risk for clots, stroke or heart failure.

Our Approach to Managing Atrial Fibrillation

At the University of Chicago Medicine, our team of electrophysiologists, cardiac surgeons, cardiac nurses and other heart care specialists offer advanced diagnostic and treatment options for people with atrial fibrillation (AFib). Our heart experts regularly care for people who have complex arrhythmias or co-existing heart or medical conditions.

We have solutions that can cure or greatly reduce the occurrence of AFib. If a procedure or surgery is required, it can typically be performed by using a minimally invasive approach in our state-of-the art electrophysiology lab or through the use of robotic surgical techniques.

Atrial Fibrillation Causes

Atrial fibrillation can develop when tissues in your heart are damaged or where there are changes in the heart's electrical system. Damage or electrical changes to the heart can be the result of an exciting heart conditions, such as:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Family history of AFib

Or atrial fibrillation can be caused by lifestyle risk factors, including:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption 
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Smoking
  • Stress

Not everyone with atrial fibrillation will have a clear cause, but knowing what can increase the risk of AFib can help you prevent the condition or diagnose it sooner.

Identifying Atrial Fibrillation Symptoms

Knowing the signs and symptoms of AFib is critical for managing your condition. If you suspect you have potential issues, reach out to your doctor for prompt treatment. If left untreated, AFib can lead to serious health consequences. You should consult one of our doctors if you believe you are at risk for atrial fibrillation and are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Irregular heartbeat or "racing" heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Disorientation/Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Types of Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is not a "one-size-fits-all" condition. There are several types of atrial fibrillation, which span the spectrum from occasional to permanent. Patients could experience:

  • Occasional: Inconsistent symptoms that will ease on their own.
  • Persistent: Symptoms that do not abate and require treatment before the patient's heartbeat returns to a normal rhythm.
  • Long-standing persistent: Any AFib reaction that lasts for longer than a year.
  • Permanent atrial fibrillation: Consistent abnormal heart rhythm that cannot be managed with standard treatments, such as medication.

Atrial Fibrillation Treatment

When deciding what AFib treatment option would be best for you, our specialists thoroughly evaluate your condition and partner with you to determine a strategy that accommodates your diagnosis and lifestyle. Selecting the right treatment will depend on a variety of factors, such as:

  • The severity of your condition
  • How long you have had atrial fibrillation
  • The success/failure of previous treatment methods
  • Additional health concerns

Our expert cardiologists and cardiac surgeons offer a wide range of treatment options, including catheterization techniques and minimally invasive procedures, and your individual treatment plan may include:

  • One or a combination of medication, including blood thinners to prevent blood clots or strokes
  • Electrical cardioversion is a nonsurgical treatment that removes abnormal electrical pathways and restores or “resets” the heart rhythm
  • Catheter ablation is done in our state-of-the-art electrophysiology lab using  extreme cold, laser technology or radiofrequency
  • Robotic ablation surgery uses a modified Maze procedure to redirect the electrical pathways through the heart
  • Implantable devices, such as pacemakers and defibrillators, are small devices that regulate the heart beat
  • Left atrial appendage closure implant, such as WATCHMAN or AMULET, is a treatment option for AFib patients, whose condition is not caused by heart valve problems and who have unwanted side effects from blood thinners, that seals the area of the heart that creates blood clots

Atrial Fibrillation Locations Near You

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To speak to someone directly, please call 1-888-824-0200. If you have symptoms of an urgent nature, please call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

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Atrial Fibrillation