Managing atrial fibrillation

Published: August, 2006

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.

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