Creating order from chaos: Taming atrial fibrillation

Published: March, 2009

Treatment focuses on controlling the heart's rate and rhythm and preventing stroke.

Imagine an orchestra directed by many conductors, all with different scores. Each musician follows whichever conductor and score he or she chooses, and switches when the mood strikes. The result would be noise, not music. That's what happens with atrial fibrillation. Instead of getting a single "beat now" signal from the heart's natural pacemaker every second or so, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) get bombarded by many signals. The result is a chaotic heart rhythm that can interfere with daily life and increases the chances of having a stroke.

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