Atrial fibrillation (a type of arrhythmia) is a disorder found in approximately 2.2 million Americans. Atrial fibrillation causes a disruption in the normal function of the electrical conduction system of the heart. The heart's two small upper chambers (the atria) quiver instead of beating effectively. Blood isn't pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot. This condition increases the risk of a stroke. If a piece of a blood clot in the atria leaves the heart and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke results. About 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation. Some of the causes of atrial fibrillation are coronary artery disease, rheumatic heart disease, pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium that surrounds the heart, which is similar to a sack that contains the heart) and mitral-valve disease. The likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age. Three to five percent of people over age 65 have atrial fibrillation.
Treating atrial fibrillation is an important way to help prevent stroke. That's why the American Heart Association recommends aggressive treatment of this heart arrhythmia.
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may be at risk for an arrhythmia that could lead to a stroke.
- Do you have palpitations - irregular, rapid heart rates, or feel like your heart is going to jump out of your chest?
- Do you have a history of hypertension (high blood pressure)?
- Do you get dizzy?
- Do you get short of breath when you exercise?
- Are you unable to exercise?
- Do you have a rapid heart rate after consuming caffeine or alcohol?
- Have you been told you have a murmur associated with a heart valve?*
- Do you have sleep apnea?
*Studies have demonstrated that individuals who answer yes to both of the questions with an asterisk have a greater chance of developing atrial fibrillation.
St. Joseph Hospital is offering an easy, inexpensive screening that could help detect atrial fibrillation before you have a problem. More information can be found at the Women's Heart Center Screenings.