Managing atrial fibrillation
When heart rhythm is in disarray, medications can often help. But if they don't do the trick, other treatments are available.
In novels and poetry, a fluttering heart often signals romance or high drama. In ordinary life, it could be a sign of a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation (AF) — a condition that occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) contract abnormally. The symptoms may include lightheadedness and fatigue as well as a fluttering or racing sensation in the chest and sometimes chest pain. AF affects nearly 2.3 million adults in the United States, and the risk rises with age: In our 50s, only 1 in 200 of us has AF, but by the time we reach our 80s, that ratio is 1 in 12. Women tend to develop the condition five to eight years later than men do, but they're more likely to die prematurely of the disease.
It's important to distinguish AF — which is not, in the vast majority of cases, life-threatening — from ventricular fibrillation, which is fatal if not treated within minutes. Ventricular fibrillation is a rhythmic dysfunction of the ventricles, the heart's main pumping chambers. AF doesn't trigger ventricular fibrillation, and the two arrhythmias have distinctly different causes and consequences.