What is it?
Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm. Abnormal heart rhythms in general are called arrhythmias. The rate and rhythm of heart beats can vary depending on the type of arrhythmia, but atrial fibrillation is described as 'irregularly irregular' because it follows no set pattern.
How do I know if I have it?
Some people feel palpitations, chest discomfort, light headed, and short of breath when atrial fibrillation occurs, but it is possible to have no symptoms at all. Advancing age, certain heart disease, and family history might contribute to the likelihood of a person developing this condition. Palpitations can be felt due to a variety of reasons though, and atrial fibrillation is just one of them.
How can I get tested for it?
Atrial fibrillation can be heard when your doctor listens to your heart during regular office visits. If I suspect an arrhythmia during a physical exam, an EKG is done in the office, which simply involves attaching stickers to your chest and recording the electrical impulses of the heart. From there further testing might be ordered such as an ultrasound of the heart, a stress test, or 24 hour heart monitoring.
How can it be treated?
There are options for treatment that involve the use of medications to slow the heart rate or change the rhythm back to a normal one. This can also be accomplished by surgery or by shocking the heart with an electrical current (like you may have seen on television but without the dramatic background music). Blood thinners may also be recommended. Regardless of the treatment, atrial fibrillation is a manageable condition that can either be controlled or cured.