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AFib (Atrial Fibrillation)

Heart image

What is AFib?

Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common heart arrhythmias, or more commonly known as an abnormal heartbeat. It causes fast, chaotic electrical signals in the atria. This leads to poor functioning of the heart. It also affects how much blood your heart can pump out to the body.

AFib may occur once in a while and go away on its own, or it may continue for longer periods and need treatment. AFib can lead to serious problems, such as stroke.

What causes AFib?

AFib is more common in older adults. It has many possible causes including:
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart surgery
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • High blood pressure
  • Lung disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Sleep apnea
Note that in some cases of AFib, doctors do not know the cause.

What are the symptoms of AFib?

AFib may or may not cause symptoms; if symptoms do occur, they may include:
  • A fast, pounding, irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Chest pain

How is AFib diagnosed?

Diagnosis starts with a medical history and physical exam. An internist, primary care provider, or cardiologists will often make the diagnosis.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is very important for a diagnosis. Healthcare providers use this test to study the heart signal and rhythm. If the AFib comes and goes, you might need an electrocardiogram over a longer period with a holter monitor or an event recorder to pick up the rhythm.

Other tests might be used to help plan treatment. These might include:
  • Echocardiogram, to check structure and function
  • Cardiac stress testing, to check the blood flow in the heart
  • Blood work, to check for thyroid levels, diabetes, and possible medical conditions

What are the treatment options for AFib?

Long, thin tubes called catheters are threaded through a blood vessel to the heart. There, the catheters send out hot or cold energy to the areas causing the abnormal signals. This energy destroys the problem tissue or cells. This improves the chances that your heart will stay in normal rhythm without using medicines. If your heart rate and rhythm can't be controlled, you may need ablation and a pacemaker. These will help control the heart rate and regularity of the heartbeat.

Your healthcare provider uses special pads or paddles to send one or more brief electrical shocks to the heart. This can help reset the heartbeat to normal.

You may be prescribed:

  • Heart rate medicines to help slow down the heartbeat
  • Heart rhythm medicines to help the heart beat more regularly
  • Anti-clotting medicines to help reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke

During surgery, your healthcare provider may use different methods to create scar tissue in the areas of the heart causing the abnormal signals. The scar tissue disrupts the abnormal signals. The scar tissue disrupts the abnormal signals and may stop AFIb from occurring.