Harvard Health Letter

Avoiding afib hospitalizations

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What you need to know about this common heart condition.

Almost three million people in the United States struggle with the irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation (afib), in which the heart's upper chambers (the atria) quiver futilely, rather than pumping steadily. This can lead to blood clots forming in the slow-moving blood. If clots form and travel in the blood to the brain, they can cause a stroke. Afib can also cause the heart's main pumping chambers (the ventricles) to pump too fast. The rapid heartbeat and quivering atria can combine to cause heart failure.

Afib is becoming a major burden on hospitals. A recent study in the journal Circulation found that afib hospitalizations increased 23% in the United States between 2000 and 2010. "We expected that increase because the baby boomer population is getting older. Afib is associated with aging, especially after age 65," says Dr. Peter Zimetbaum, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

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