Atrial fibrillation, or A-Fib, is a type of sustained arrhythmia in which the heart beats irregularly or fast. It is often described to feel like "fish jumping in my chest," although many people feel no symptoms. A-fib affects nearly three million people in the U.S. There are four types of A-fib:

  • Paroxysmal, for which the irregular heartbeat lasts less than seven days, usually less than 24 hours and has recurred at least twice
  • Persistent, for which the irregular heartbeat lasts longer than seven days, but the abnormal rhythm can be stopped with treatment
  • Permanent, as defined when the arrhythmia lasts longer than one year and does not respond to treatment or treatment has not been attempted.
  • Lone, for which the irregular heartbeat is paroxysmal or persistent and occurs without another form of heart disease.

Although A-Fib itself is not life threatening, it can have serious consequences. People with A-fib are at a much higher risk of stroke. Left untreated, A-fib can lead to heart failure.

MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute physicians achieve consistently high rates of success at controlling this highly challenging heart rhythm disorder that affects about one percent of the entire population and about 10 percent of people older than 80.

A-Fib Risk Factors

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Previous heart attack
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart valve problems
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Diabetes
  • Other arrhythmias, including atrial flutter and ventricular fibrillation
  • Inflammation, such as after heart surgery (CABG)
  • Lung diseases, including pulmonary embolism
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Viral infections
  • Obesity
  • Age: three to five percent of people over age 65 have A-fib and up to 10 percent of people over age 80 have A-fib

Diagnostic Tools

  • CG
  • Holter/Event Monitor
  • Loop Recorder

A-Fib Treatment

  • Medicines: aspirin, warfarin, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and anti-arrhythmic medicines to control heart rate and prevent stroke
  • Cardioversion: a procedure for people who are having A-Fib for the first time or need treatment right away
  • Ablation: for people with symptoms who have failed or not tolerated medicines
  • Surgery: for people who do not respond to medical therapy or ablation, often performed with other heart surgery
  • The WATCHMAN Device helps treat Atrial Fibrillation

Convergent Atrial Fibrillation Ablation

  • Convergent Atrial Fibrillation Ablation is a minimally invasive hybrid procedure that aggressively treats this frequently frustrating heart rhythm disorder. It involves the teamwork of an interventional cardiac electrophysiologist and a cardiac surgeon.
  • Cardiac specialists at the Heart Institute are specially trained in performing this complex procedure. An interdisciplinary medical team will plan every step of your procedure and answer any questions you may have. The benefits of convergent A-fib ablation include:
  • Minimally invasive—provides both endocardial and epicardial ablation without the need for chest incision or bypass
  • Intra-operative testing—we are able to ascertain the effectiveness of the therapy during the procedure itself.
  • Multidisciplinary care—experts in many areas of cardiac care are involved in your treatment.
  • Shorter hospital stay—less pain, a shorter hospital stay, and faster recovery times than traditional surgical methods.

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A-Fib: Minimally Invasive Treatment