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Heart Health

Zap away atrial fibrillation?

Updated: April 01, 2018

Catheter ablation, a procedure that destroys faulty electrical pathways in the heart, is gaining ground.

Atrial fibrillation — called afib for short — is a rapid, irregular heartbeat caused by errant electrical signals in the heart's upper chambers (atria). This heart rhythm disorder becomes more prevalent with age, affecting about one in 11 people ages 65 and older.

The chaotic heartbeat that characterizes afib usually comes and goes and may last anywhere from a few seconds to many hours — or much longer (see "Atrial fibrillation: Defined by its duration"). Although about 20% of people with afib don't notice any symptoms, it can trigger a range of unsettling problems. These include a fluttering or thumping sensation in the chest, breathlessness, dizziness, anxiety, weakness, fainting, confusion, and fatigue.

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