Medbroadcast  Powered by MediResource

 Browse alphabetically
Family & Child Health
Men's Health
Women's Health
Seniors' Health
Ankylosing Spondylitis
Arthritis (Rheumatoid)
Atrial Fibrillation
Baby Health
Back Health
Bladder (Overactive)
Brain Health
Childhood Vaccinations
Crohn's & Colitis
Cold and Flu
Cosmetic Procedures
Depression NEW!
Digestive Health
Ear Health
Eating Disorders
Eye Health
Flu (Seasonal)
Healthy Skin
High Blood Pressure
Kidney Health
Low Testosterone NEW!
Lung Health
Medications and your Health
Mental Health
Multiple Sclerosis NEW!
Natural and Complementary Therapy
Oral Care
Osteoarthritis of the Knee NEW!
Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA)
Seasonal Health
Sexual Health
Sleep Health
Stroke Risk Reduction
Weight Management
Workplace Health
Yeast Infection
All health channels

Ask an Expert
Clinical Trials
Find a Specialist
Health features

Condition Info Drug Info Tests and Procedures Natural Products Ask an Expert Support Groups Clinical Trials
Home Bookmark Page Send to a Friend Sante Chez Nous Subscribe
Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial Fibrillation
About atrial fibrillation
Do I have atrial fibrillation?
How can atrial fibrillation harm me?
How is atrial fibrillation treated?
Living with atrial fibrillation
Doctor Discussion Guide
Have you heard of arrhythmia? What about heart flutter or irregular heartbeat? These are terms often used to describe a heart rhythm problem called atrial fibrillation. Find out more about this common yet largely unknown medical condition.
Atrial Fibrillation resources
Health features
Health tools
Support groups
Related conditions
Related medications
Tests and procedures

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (also known as AF or AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm). Many people are not aware of what atrial fibrillation is and refer to this heart rhythm problem as "heart flutter" or "irregular heartbeat." They may also call it "heart palpitations," which are the most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation.

To understand atrial fibrillation, you need to understand how the heart works and what a normal heartbeat is.

The normal heart
The heart is a muscle made up of 4 chambers: 2 atria (the left atrium and the right atrium, making up the top half of the heart) and 2 ventricles (left and right, making up the bottom half of the heart). The heart has its own electrical system that controls the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. The heart beats at an average of 60 to 100 times per minute at rest.


Figure 1

Click to enlarge

To get blood to reach the rest of the body, the heart's electrical system signals the chambers to work in coordination to expand and contract and to pump blood into the heart and out to the rest of the body. This starts with an electrical signal sent out by a group of cells called the sinus or sinoatrial (SA) node, the natural pacemaker of the heart. The SA is located in the right atrium.

Atrial fibrillation
In atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm) occurs because the electrical signal controlling the heartbeat becomes confused, and the atria quiver rapidly and unevenly, changing the constant rhythm of the heart.

The atria and ventricles no longer work in a coordinated way to contract and pump blood, the heart may not pump blood efficiently, and the heart rhythm becomes abnormal. In AF, the heart beats about 100 to 175 times per minute.

In our Human Atlas, you can see a video on atrial fibrillation.

There are three types of atrial fibrillation:

Paroxysmal: Paroxysmal AF is a temporary and sometimes recurrent condition that can start suddenly. The heartbeat returns to normal on its own within one week, without any medical assistance.

Persistent: In persistent AF, atrial fibrillation episodes last longer than one week and do not go away on their own. Medical assistance is required to return the heart rhythm to normal.

Permanent: In permanent AF, the irregular heartbeat lasts for a longer period of time (more than a year) and the heart rhythm does not return to normal even with medical assistance. Some people with permanent AF do not feel any symptoms.

Atrial fibrillation increases your risk for stroke, heart failure, and being hospitalized.

The good news is that AF is manageable and most people with AF can lead active, healthy, normal lives with appropriate treatment.

Hot Topics - Bedwetting, Depression, Flu (Seasonal), Healthy Skin, Incontinence, Multiple Sclerosis, Psoriasis, Stroke Risk Reduction

Condition and disease information is written and reviewed by the MedBroadcast Clinical Team.

The contents of this site are for informational purposes only and are meant to be discussed with your physician or other qualified health care professional before being acted on. Never disregard any advice given to you by your doctor or other qualified health care professional. Always seek the advice of a physician or other licensed health care professional regarding any questions you have about your medical condition(s) and treatment(s). This site is not a substitute for medical advice.
© 1996 - 2015 MediResource Inc. - MediResource reaches millions of Canadians each year.